Book Review: The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

the wind up bird chronicle cover


So my husband as well as my dear dear Jung-obsessed friend and I all decided that we would read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle together. 

This is after I had turned them both on to Kafka on the Shore several months ago.  Of course, their digging into the book coincided with a minor obsession on my part with history books including Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.  El Marido also had it in his head that I would buy the thing on Kindle and he could just go along lending out our print version–as if!!  The point is they both finished the thing well in advance of me, and would make veiled references to it at dinner to which I would cover my ears and sing the national anthem.

The good thing is, once I began to read and become more and more absorbed, they were available at the other end of my phone as I sat in my Sacramento hotel room with my half-eaten club sandwich and my open, garlic salt-dusted book.  Both made references to how they were interested in my perspective “because of the kind of work I do”, so that was a dead give-away that there would be sexual assault and child abuse.  The subtleties of that and how it would be woven into the narrative, however, were things I wasn’t quite prepared for. However, usually when I read Murakami (or any other magical realist for that matter), I try not to make any preparations at all.

Because I’m not into giving major spoilers, I’m only going to discuss my major emotional reactions and the themes that stuck with me the most (remembering that I hate saying “THIS IS WHAT A BOOK MEANS” and too much of that is what turned me off to being a lit major–let a story be a story and have multiple meanings, right?).  My Jung-loving friend told me before I began, “The only thing I’ll say is that the cave in this book is the well.” The cave, the portal to the unconscious, which I think has been mainly discarded as a little too metaphysical for the more scientific psychologists of late, but is still fully applicable for those of us who are ok with conceptualizing in terms that can be considered “incorrect.” This book is super metaphysical, as are most of his books. I myself am not comfortable in describing “the soul” or “the spirit” as things disconnected from the whole person.

In this book, however, we deal with several highly dissociative characters: whose voices change according to the depth of their sexual promiscuity, whose spirits disconnect from their bodies to do metaphysical battle from the bottom of a dried well, ones who have a media-face and a face that they show to people whom they mean harm. There is, in fact, a lot of rape/incest/sexual assault (often translated “defilement” by the translator Jay Rubin), but the terms in which they are described are highly symbolic and spiritual. Creta Kano, a character who became a prostitute because she claimed to be “numb to physical pain and pleasure” boils rape down to its essence, and that purest essence that experiences the pain–binds her ability to experience pain and pleasure into one piece–is described as an actual tangible thing, a thing separate from the body, that emerges from her body during her event. She is not the only one who describes the experience in that way–and in fact throughout the rest of the novel, rape is only linguistically addressed on the plane of the metaphysical.  This doesn’t even begin to describe the similarities drawn between this dissociation with pain in the victims and then in the soldiers that carried out and also viewed war atrocities in Manchuria. The men in these places described their pain in almost the same way. The recollections of these things is fragmentary and non-chronological, like the real communications of someone who is experiencing Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.

What started keeping me up at night once this book drew to a close was the repetition of this method of explaining things, not only within the world of the novel but outside it as well. As mentioned before, we learn in victim advocate training that the memory is non-linear in recalling trauma and violence, and it’s our job to help the survivor establish a narrative in order to help them make sense of what has happened in their lives. In art therapy sessions, people who perpetrate domestic violence often refer to and depict a “monster inside” of them who seems to be divorced from their actual intentions and the things that they desire in life. So far I’ve had a couple of major freak outs and a nearly-missed fight with my Church-minister father about this topic (to which he pointed me toward Romans 7, in which Paul describes the problem as well, but obviously–because you can’t–doesn’t offer a spic and span solution).

The novel itself is wonderful, the characters breathing, the setting clearly seen despite its nether-worldly complications.  As always Murakami is able to combine the mundane and the spiritual so seamlessly that it makes me look at things like a telephone, a computer, a cat, my own skin or a closet full of skirts and blouses with dual apprehension and wonder.