Murakami’s Magical Madness

The Win-Up Bird Chronicle

The Win-Up Bird Chronicle

It happens rarely, but when it does, all the effort that reading takes is justified ten times over. Less than 20 pages down while reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I knew I was in company of a mastermind – in all senses of the word.

Murakami has been one of the many authors whom for some reason I just kept ignoring despite intending all the time to read him ‘a little later’. Finally, after Murdoch’s painfully real Under the Net, I needed some respite from reality. Of what I had read about Murakami, I ventured hoping he would give me some. And lo! he did not disappoint; on the contrary he surpassed all expectations.

Murakami is not a fantasy, fairy-tale, or sci-fi novelist, yet he hangs you at the edge of reality throughout the journey of his book. In terms of a sense of the real, it’s niether here nor there. As his protagonist himself wonders while Murakami takes him on a roller coster ride where the next turn is invisible – truth is not necessarily fact and fact not necessarily truth.

The real genius of Murakami lies in the fact that not only does he weave a magical ‘on the edge of reality’ tale but does it in a way that even the skeptics are bound to love this magic. For the cynics who equate life to mathematical certainity, Murakami is the devil. For venturing into the ‘unreal’ with such precision and logical flow would shatter all the conceptions of our mathematical cynics.

Along the fun ride that Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is, Murakami plays around with a quite a few difficult themes – marriage, relationships, loneliness, war, reality, existentialism, et all. He deals with such themes as if teasing the reader to go on to a new one. He challenges your intellect and when you respond, he defies your logic in progression of his plot. 

Many compare him to Kafka, but I do not think that is right. I find him to be original. It is true though that if Kafka’s literature had not been witnessed by the world before his, it would be difficult to the critics to understand him. He might have risked the chances of him being dismissed as nonsensical.

In literary fiction, I believe, it is more common to have a story founded on certain very strong characters, plot taking a second seat. However, Murakami’s characters are far from strong. Except the protagonist and a couple of other ladies in his life, the rest of them are just sketches. All focus is on the plot. Characters come and go, abruptly. But in that brief time, they have moved the plot to another level. You need to read him to understand how magically he makes his characters tell the story without, almost, being a part of it. He’s magical. He’s maddening. He’s Murakami

This was my first Murakami and I am already itching for another one. Any suggestions? Kafka on the shore or Norwegian Wood? Or should I jump to Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World?

16 responses to “Murakami’s Magical Madness

  1. I’ve yet to reat Wind up Bird Chronicles, and have two Murakami’s on my list of “to buy” books, but I have read Kafka on the Shore and found it totally delightful for the same reasons you mention here. He is one of a kind and his world is a walcome change from reality while still bringing human nature into it as a recognizable relevant element of story.

  2. This book made me a Murakami fan for life! I can’t even express how great Wind-up Bird is, nor can I recommend it highly enough.

    Incidentally. I’m also a great Iris Murdoch fan.

  3. Thanks Susan and drabbe for your comments.

    ‘a welcome change from reality while still bringing human nature into it as a recognizable element of story’ – perfect description.

    Drabbe – I have read only Under the Net by Murdoch and loved it. Specially the subtelity with which ideas are expressed. I have ‘The Black Prince’ on my radar as my next Murdoch.

    By the way, any suggestions as to which is the next best of Murakami?

  4. Pingback: Book Crazy on Haruki Murakami « Bill Ectric’s Place

  5. Great review. I have yet to read Murakami, but your description of his work is both well-written and pursuasive. I am linking this review to my blog and would like to include your name, but I couldn’t find it anywhere on your blog. Either I didn’t look hard enough or you prefer to be known as “Book Crazy.” Thanks.

  6. Thanks a lot Bill.
    I am happy I could persuade you to read an author you have not before. I guess that’s the whole point of what people call book-blogging.

    And yes, I prefer to be known as BookCrazy in the blogosphere. What’s in a name? 🙂

  7. I am completely and utterly addicted to Murakami. The first one I read was Norwegian Wood, and I was in love with the clean style of his language since then.

    Kafka and Hardboiled Wonderland are both more fantasy/sci-fi, while Norwegian wood is something completely different. So, after Wind-up bird, I would suggest going first Kafka, then Hardboiled.
    Then delve into the other side with Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart and South of the border.
    Or, get his short story collections, that are equally delightful, and gives you a wider glimpse into what he is capable of.

    I have, to date, bought and read 12 of his books, and have not regretted a single one of them 🙂

  8. And I have to add that I normally have a fair command of the English language, despite the evidence to the contrary in my previous comment. Gah!

  9. So good to read your review! I have yet to read Murakami but have had Kafka on the Shore on my bookshelf for a while so pulled it out yesterday. Thank you!! (I could use a little respite from reality based on reality! 🙂 )

  10. Fascinating review. Murakami is a wonderful writer, and you can’t compare him with any other writer, not even with Kafka whom Murakami definitely adores. Kafka’s is a hard, dreadful world while Murakami deals with a semi-mysterious world – neither very real nor wholly imaginary – in a very likable way. You’ve rightly said he’s original.

  11. Thanks for your comments.

    Arulba, am sure you will like him.

    Vanessa, I checked your blog. Good stuff.

    Mrinal, I agree. But I also believe that without having been introduced to Kafka’s world, people would reject a plot without clear demarcation of the real from the unreal. If you have wached the Indian movie ‘No Smoking’, you could understand why despite being one of the best movies of Indian cinema, it was a big disaster.

    I also read on one of the blogs, a very well written article, arguing that once you have read 3 or 4 Murakami, you will lose interest in him. Well, we have Vanessa here to assure us that’s not true.

  12. i am yet to read Wind up Brid Chronicles.. but i did read “Norwegian Wood”.. It was a little too depressing for me at first.. a little too dark.. but now i am beginning to see why it is easy to like Murakami.. he is such a powerful writer! he makes you a part of his book!
    loved your review.. will add this to my list of books to be read! and ps: thanks for that comment on crime and punishment. i enjoyed reading your views on dostoevsky..:)

  13. While there are amazing chapters in Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it felt it was cobbled together, with confusing characters, plot elements and sub-stories. I blogged about this topic a while ago – the first chapter, for example, was taken from a short story of his.

    I’d recommend Norwegian Wood (there’s no sci-fi / fantasy / magic realism), it’s a straight story, beautifully told. It’s one of my favourite novels.

    I had a proof copy of Kafka on the Shore and I was so excited about getting it. When I finally read it (before it was available in shops) I was *really* disappointed. Nothing he’s written since rings true for me. He can write in his sleep, but has he got anything left to say?

  14. Based on recommendations like yours, I have already placed Norwegian Wood as my next Murakami read. I cannot argue about Murakami being repetitive or not as I have only read one. But I have heard similar opinion as yours at other blogs. At least from the descriptions at the back cover, it does look like themes are very similar. May be commercial success forces you to repeat the same story in defferent ways. Let’s hope, like his recent book on his walking memoirs, he comes out with something original again in fiction.

  15. Hey, you should surely try his short stories too. both Blind willow,sleeping woman and elephant vanishes. Also,South of border.

  16. i have been wanting to read this book for a really long time and after reading your blog i am going to move it up on my wishlist!

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