Thursday, January 07, 2021

“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”

"When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini's The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta." 

Haruki Murakami's books are fascinating and very weird! For a long time I have thought I had read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I have owned it since its publication), but when I read it this week, I did not remember anything at all -- not even the first sentence, which I quoted above. Of course this sentence fit my expectations, as Murakami novels are always full of food descriptions, especially descriptions of the central character cooking for himself in his kitchen. 

The surreal atmosphere that one also expects from Murakami combines here with a huge number of characters, sub-plots, flashbacks to World War II in Manchuria, and very strange violence. Most of the book is narrated by a thirty-year-old unemployed paralegal worker named Toru Okada, with occasional quotations of letters from some of his acquaintances, and then with memories in the heads of these people. At first, he seems to live in the usual, normal world, looking for his lost cat, breaking up with his wife... but slowly this tips into a fantasy world that merges dreams and half-real events. His fantasy world and dreams may be shared with others (and may not) -- just what you expect from Murakami. Bewildering.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, published 1994

Many details seem important -- but I'm not sure what they mean. For example, Cutty Sark whiskey is mentioned often. Why? I don't know. Another repeated image: the singing of the wind-up bird, which perhaps is a real bird that sings a creaky song like a toy being wound up. A wind-up bird appears in the gardens of the protagonist's neighborhood, and also in a few other places where maybe only some people can hear it. The overture to The Thieving Magpie is also heard at various times during the book besides in the opening paragraphs. Quite a few other similar details recur with a meaningful vibe, but I was never sure if a specific meaning was intended in the midst of constant dreams and magical transformations of reality. Or if it was just the creation of unreality.

Little reflections add up to a big, if confused picture of modern life for the protagonist. A few examples:

"Does money have a name?" ... Money had no name, of course. And if it did have a name, it would no longer be money. What gave money its true meaning was its dark-night namelessness, its breathtaking interchangeability." (p. 355)

"Something strange was happening to my sense of time. I decided not to look at my watch for a while. Maybe I didn't have anything else to do, but it wasn't healthy to be looking at a watch this often.... The pain was like what I had felt when I quit smoking. From the moment I decided to give up thinking about time, my mind could think of nothing else. It was a kind of contradiction, a schizoid split. The more I tried to forget about time, the more I was compelled to think about it." (p. 265)

"I simply did what I was told. This reminded me of several so-called art films I had seen in college. Movies like that never explained what was going on. Explanations were rejected as some kind of evil that could only destroy the films' 'reality'; That was one way of thought, one way to look at things, no doubt, but it felt strange for me as a real, live human being, to enter such a world." (p. 380)

I think I like some of Murakami's other works better, such as A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance,  Killing CommendatoreColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, and some short stories. I think they end in a slightly more satisfying way, for one thing, maybe not always. I've written better reviews of some of them. Somehow I can't quite get my head around this one. 

Anyway, I tried listening mindfully to Rossini's familiar overture to The Thieving Magpie and I don't see quite why it's perfect for cooking spaghetti. However, the Youtube recording that I listened to (link) had a long discussion by 27 responders in the comment section, which began this way:

why would this music be good for cooking spagetti?

This must mean something about Murakami's popularity! And about how some people spell spaghetti.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.


kwarkito said...

C'est un des livres de Murakami qui m'a le plus marqué. je garde un souvenir intense de ce personnage au fond de son trou, et aussi des scènes qui se passent en mandchourie en particulier ce passage hallucinant concernant le zoo et les animaux en liberté. je l'ai lu il y a plus de dix ans, il faudrait que j'y retourne...

My name is Erika. said...

I've read a bit of Japanese literature and I often find it hard to connect with the stories. After visiting Japan I think for me it is because of the major cultural differences. Even visiting I don't recognize them all, and we were in an immersion program for much of our trip. But I am glad to read about the book Mae. Thanks for sharing.

Jeanie said...

Murakami is always a little too weird for me. I've tried but just can't get into them. Spaghetti cooking music? Interesting thought!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

First, I want to let you know, here is Laurie's latest post:

Laurie is once again nearly blind and I'm just thrilled she has left her blog intact. She didn't link to us for T, which she explains in the post before this one.

As for your review of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I found the quote quite confusing and I also couldn't see any significance between some of your concerns, either. I think I'm more confused than you.

Divers and Sundry said...

I loved this book! I know I've read other of his works but can't for the life of me remember which ones...

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

Well I don't know that I want to read this book but I certainly had fun reading your post......Thanks for the chuckle today.