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Amber Paulen

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

25 August 2011


Wracking my brain for some kind of entrance into this post is the entrance, I suppose. Being immersed in Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, reading among the layers of history, real, surreal, symbols and side-stories, is to be swiftly carried along by a poetically strange imagination. And then, finished, standing on the outside, thinking, “How did I get here? What were all those thoughts and emotions, real or unreal, that passed through me?”

It is Murakami’s craft, more than his story, that I’m interested in; in his masterful literary gymnastics between the real and the subconscious, the connections between the two, how they effect each other. Never have I read an author who has so embodied the interplay of the vast subtleties of the mind and the actual events of the world. In the hands of Murakami, reality takes on new tones and shadings, the imagination, the subconscious, the surreal, are not confined to dream sequences but are allowed out, no matter how weird. And it is this balance in Toru Okada, his ability to enter into the real and the surreal with benign acceptance, that make him the hero of the book.

Toru Okada is by all definitions, an ordinary guy. And even throughout the book, as his adventures and encounters become more extraordinary, I still retained an impression of his ordinariness. Perhaps that’s what gives the surreal elements their complete believability: why would Toru Okada make anything up? Why would you not believe him? All he wants to do is to find out what happened to Kumiko, through whom the archetypal good/evil story emerges, almost fairy-tale-esque.

Not far into the novel, Toru Okada has met quite a few strange women, starting on the first pages with the mysterious phone sex woman whose identity is never completely clear. Malta Kano, Creta Kano and May Kasahara. The Kano sisters are in touch with the surreal side of things, while sixteen year old May Kasahara is this odd voice of reason. Here is part of her discussion on chaos:

Anyway, it seems to me that the way most people go on living (I suppose there are a few exceptions), they think that the world or life (or whatever) is this place where everything is (or is supposed to be) basically logical and consistent. […] Like, when something happens, whether it’s a big event that effects the whole of society or something small and personal, people talk about it like, “Oh, well, of course, that happened because such and such,” and most of the time people will agree and say, “Oh, sure, I see,” but I just don’t get it. “A is like this, so that’s why B happened.” I mean, that doesn’t explain anything.

And this certainly rings true in Murakami’s book. The reader is never given a logic for events ever. Unlike Alice Munro who uses the past to enlighten the present, Murakami’s characters show up then disappear, they serve their purpose, whatever that may be, and then they are gone. The reader is given this story to make of it what we will.

When Toru Okada goes down in the well and May Kasahara removes his rope ladder and closes the lid, she tells him she is going to leave him die down there, alone. After Toru is rescued, May Kasahara asks if he thought she was really going to let him die, for she doesn’t know the answer for herself. In his response, Toru says:

I mean, reality is made up of these layers. So maybe in that reality you were serious about trying to kill me, but in this reality you weren’t. It depends on which reality you take and which reality I take.

So Murakami has not examined the surreal in his book, but has instead pealed down reality’s layers; he has revealed to us reality’s potentials and nature. Just because we see something or hear, feel it, doesn’t set it here or there, doesn’t mean it has to be connected to what came before or what will come after. He is showing us that within each moment there is as equal parts what-is and what-isn’t. It’s up to us to decide how far down the well we want to go.



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