Friday, August 11, 2006

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

I decided to re-read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle after reading several of Murakami's other books. One of the things I love about Murakami is the dreamlike setting of his books. While books in the Magical Realism genre tend to insert fantastic or mystic things into everyday life Murakami has a tendency to do the opposite -- take everyday things and imbue them with mystical significance. Perhaps it's my limited knowledge, but the only similar artist I can think of off of the top of my head is David Lynch.

I found myself imagining certain scenes in The Wind Up Bird Chronicle as they would be in a Lynch movie -- the hotel with room 208, the man with no face, and the Rossini whistling waiter, particularly comes to mind. If I had my way Murakami and Lynch would collaborate on a project. In a perfect world maybe.

I'm always curious reading books in translation as to how different they are from the original language, and particularly whether some of the interesting tricks are functions of differences in culture and language or were intended. For example Murakami has a tendency to invert similes -- rather than comparing something alien to the reader to something they are familiar with he will describe something we would normally see as quotidian and read right past and compare it to something outlandish and impossible. "It was a silence like the silence after the death of all living things." Wild Sheep Chase. I don't know whether this is something that might be more common or acceptable in Japanese, but it fits perfectly with the imbuing everyday things with mystical significance that he engages in.

I had a discussion with a friend who had recently finished this book for the first time, and one of his frustrations was that there seemed to be so many aspects of the story without connection to the story as a whole, and it is true to a certain extent that there are a lot of red herrings in the story, but that to me is part of what gives it that surreal mystery story aspect. As a reader you struggle to make sense of the myriad storylines and details that you feel must have significance to the trajectory of the novel as a whole. The reality is that the book resists being decoded in any kind of complete sense -- even the question of what the wind up bird is remains unanswerable. (On a side note I found it interesting that to my friend the question of whether the wind up bird existed in the real world or the dream world, was incredibly important, while for me the question hadn't even crossed my mind.) Malta and Creta Kano virtually disappear from the book entirely, having played a key role early one, and the only news of them we receive is that Creta Kano is having a baby and naming her Corsica. Why? Perhaps to imply the continuation of the human connection to the psychic world even as the narrator loses his connection, or maybe Murakami is obsessed with Mediterranean islands who knows. In the end the world he creates is one in which there is a hint of overarching connection, enough to encourage us to examine everything with the assumption that it has significance, but the key which we feel must exist to decoding all the clues and fully comprehending the world flits seemingly just out of grasp.

Doing a little research I came upon the fact that the book was evidently abridged significantly in translation, which might have contributed to the feeling of abandoned plotlines, and incompleteness at the end. On the other hand the book is already long and maintains a sense of completeness even with it's loose ends.


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