Winding through magical realism

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the back of this edition, there is a quote from a New York Times review: "Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon — a roster so ill assorted as to suggest that Murakami may in fact be an original."

I had to laugh at that, for I wanted to add another writher – Gabriel Garcia Marques, the originator of magical realism. Like Marques, Murakami’s stories are long and disjointed, with many characters, inhabiting a world where magic is present but never referred to. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is long and rambling, the main theme being a young suburbanite’s search for his wife (where he is aided or opposed by many characters, each with their own reality – or lack of it – to deal with.)

Sometimes the stories feel underdeveloped, and there is little attempt at closure, which at times can feel rather cloying (though not as bad as, say, Peter Høeg.) The overarching theme, if any, is the fight between good and bad, between "defilers" and "defiled", which is most visible in some of the stories, told in letters and found computer files, about soldiers in the little-known war between Japan and the Soviet Union before and at the end of WWII.

The saving grace of this book is the language, which can only be described as "poetic", and the individual stories, of which some are brilliant (such as the story of a group of Japanese soldiers trying to kill zoo animals and botching the job). I thought some of the evil characters – the protagonist’s brother-in-law politician, a Soviet camp commander, a creepy and threatening mafia enforcer – were underdeveloped. All the characters seem rather distanced from what is happening around them, which gives the novel a dream-like mode, as if they are all narrators seeing the world through a video camera while adding their own commentary and interpretation.

It works, and the narrative moves along sufficiently to make this an enjoyable read – but once, methinks, is enough.

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