The #winditup2013 Read-Along Update: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)
By Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin
Knopf, 1997
#Winditup2013 Readalong hosted by Ti at Book Chatter

Enjoying the #Winditup2013 Readalong with Ti at Book Chatter, so wanted to attempt to answer some of the discussion questions. For more on Murakami, read Ti’s thoughts on Book One of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

What was your initial reaction after reading the first few chapters?

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is dreamlike, reminding me of the only other Murakami novel I’ve read so far, Kafka on the Shore. Extraordinary events occur but are described in the same tone as events like making dinner. Sexual thoughts and images pop up in the oddest places (like the young neighbor girl’s magazine). Normal things like answering the phone, wearing a hat, or a cat’s disappearance also take on strange significance – the way things do in a dream.

What do you think of the characters? Do you have a favorite?

I don’t like any of the characters particularly. None of them are really knowable at this point – they are all reflective surfaces, even the narrator. Even when we’re given background information about a character, we can’t be sure that it’s meaningful or even true.

What about the story? Is it interesting? Predictable?

Definitely interesting and not at all predictable, at least to me! It’s a circular kind of story, rather than linear, so I’m not at all sure where it’s going or if it’s going anywhere in particular. It starts out with the unemployed, 30-year-old main character/first-person narrator fixing himself spaghetti at an odd time – late for breakfast, too early for lunch – and listening to classical music, when an upsetting phone call from a stranger, a woman who knows personal details about him, disturbs his surface serenity. He’s relieved when the next call is from his wife Kumiko, from work; they have a talk about errands and she asks him to look for their missing cat. Their marriage seems happy enough – comfortable, even loving – but the narrator (whose name we don’t learn until Chapter 3) is left almost as unsettled by the phone call with his wife as by the phone call from the strange woman who tried to insinuate herself into his day.

Here’s an excerpt from early in the first chapter, with the chapter heading “Six Fingers and Four Breasts.”

I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, than out to the veranda to look at the cat’s dish. The mound of sardines was untouched from last night. No, the cat had not come back. I stood there looking at our small garden, with the early-summer sunshine streaming into it. Not that ours was the kind of garden that gives you spiritual solace to look at. The sun managed to find its way in there for the smallest fraction of each day, so the earth was always black and moist, and all we had by way of garden plants were a few drab hydrangeas in one corner – and I don’t like hydrangeas. There was a small stand of trees nearby, and from it you could hear the mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring. We called it the wind-up bird. Kumiko gave it the name. We didn’t know what it was really called or what it looked like, but that didn’t bother the wind-up bird. Every day it would come to the stand of trees in our neighborhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world.
So now I had to go cat hunting. I had always liked cats. And I liked this particular cat. But cats have their own way of living. They’re not stupid. If a cat stopped living where you happened to be, that meant it had decided to go somewhere else. If it got tired and hungry, it would come back. Finally, though, to keep Kumiko happy, I would have to go looking for our cat. I had nothing better to do.

Have you read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or another book by Haruki Murakami? Join in the conversation here, on Twitter (#winditup2013), or on Ti’s blog, Book Chatter.

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9 thoughts on “The #winditup2013 Read-Along Update: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Book One)”

  1. I really love what you said about reflective surfaces. That is exactly how I’d describe the characters but couldn’t put it into words. With this novel in particular, I often feel as if Toru’s personality, otherwise tame, is projected through these odd ball characters. It seems as if there is a little bit of him in every one.

    1. Yes, it’s interesting how we don’t even get Toru’s name right away. It’s really hard to tell what his “personality” even is, isn’t it? I might not have gotten around to reading this without the readalong, so thanks for the nudge!

  2. I think the comparison to Kafka on the Shore is apt. It’s been a while since I read it, but it reminds me of that one, in the overall feeling. However, from reading others of his book, I think almost all of them are dream-like, to one degree or the other. Surreal is the best way to describe them, I guess. Along with the quote I mentioned in my post, that passage you quoted was also one of my favorites from this first book.

  3. I hadn’t considered not being able to know whether the events or characteristics or things that come up within the novel are true or not. Interesting! And I love what you say about the plot being circular rather than linear. I think that same can be said of dreams! No real beginning or end and the order of events or how events happen aren’t always explainable in a dream state.

    I haven’t started Book Two yet and I’m looking forward to spending the second half of my lunch diving in!

  4. So far, I remember all you say. But yes, I have read this and no, I don’t remember any of it. In fact, my own review doesn’t give me any clues to plot or what happens. I think I was rather ambivalent and confused, despite my thinking the overall theme was romantic.

    1. It would be hard to summarize the plot without the book’s sounding really strange. You can pick up a copy and jump in on the readalong to refresh your memory!

  5. I like the sound of the dream-like features,especially since it’s one thing to dream but must be another to actually write something that fits that state. I have to get to Murakami some time.

    1. Yes, when we try to relate our dreams they usually come out long, boring, and meaningless, even though everything seemed so significant while we were dreaming!

Would love to have you comment!