Monday, March 15, 2010

'The Wind-up Bird Chronicle' Discussion - Book One (JLit Read-along)

Japanese Literature Read-along

Welcome to the discussion of Book One, the first part of our 3-month read-along, of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Book One: The Thieving Magpie (June and July 1984) takes us to page 172 in the Vintage paperback, both the US and UK editions. For more information on the book editions, and schedule, please visit the Japanese Literature Read-along page.

About the Book
The Wind-up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-up Bird Chronicle (ねじまき鳥クロニクル, Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru) is Haruki Murakami's eighth novel. It was first published in Japan in 3 volumes, which constitute Books One to Three, in 1994-5. It was translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, and published in English in 1997. It received the Yomiuri Prize for Literature in 1995, and was a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1999.
From the back cover:
Japan's most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II.

In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife's missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan's forgotten campaign in Manchuria.

Gripping, prophetic, suffused with comedy and menace, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a tour de force equal in scope to the masterpieces of Mishima and Pynchon.
Other sources of information on The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:
Review in The New York Times
Exorcising Ghosts
Wikipedia entry

For more information on the author, check out the following links:
Murakami: Titan of postwar literature (The Japan Times)
Marathon Man (The Guardian)
Jazz Messenger (The New York Times)
Wikipedia entry

Discussion Questions
For the sake of those following the read-along schedule, we will only be discussing Book One this month. If you have finished reading the book, or have read it previously, please consider those that haven't. Spoilers are fine for Book One, but please don't spoil the rest of the book. Thank you!

Of the more 'scholarly' discussion questions that I found online, most of them refer to the complete book so we'll perhaps take a look at those for the discussion of Book Three. So if you have any questions pertaining to Book One, please feel free to jump in and ask.

As always, the questions below are just a guide to start the conversation. Answer those that interest you, or ask any other questions that you may have about the book. Also, if you haven't had a chance to start reading yet, you're welcome to post your thoughts or comments any time.

What do you think of the story so far?
What are your initial impressions of Toru Watanabe?
What do you think of the other characters we're introduced to in Book One?
There are quite a few unusual names and nicknames for major and minor characters. Do you think the choice of names is important?
Do you have any favourite passages, or scenes, in Book One?
How does Lieutenant Mamiya's story of the war in Manchuria fit with the rest of the narrative?
What do you think is the significance of the empty box that Toru gets from Mr. Honda (at the end of Book One)?
What do you think of the translation? Does it read smoothly?
Are you looking forward to reading on? Any guesses on where the story will go from here?
(Your question here...)

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleThe following have shared their thoughts on The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:
We Be Reading (Book One)
Polishing Mud Balls (Book One)
Dolce Bellezza (review)
su[shu] (review)
If you have posted about Volume One on your own blog, or a spoiler-free review of the book as a whole, please leave a link in the comments and I'll update this post so that we can all visit.

Also, just a reminder that we'll begin discussing Book Two of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle on April 15th, and Book Three on May 15th.
In the meantime, happy reading and discussing!

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. I posted my thoughts on the whole book late last year (LINK).

    I found the characters in this book to be very weird. Especially a couple of their names. It made me think if Murakami had done that on purpose to add a layer of unbelievability to them, because besides their names, their characters do seem very 'out-there'.

    Lt Mamiya's story was definitely bizarre for me. Especially when he was narrating the part about the soldiers skinning Yamamoto alive. It's a scene I doubt people would easily forget, it's quite visual.

    I'd be interested to see what others thought about Book One. Especially the empty box.

    Thanks for the discussion space Tanabata.

  2. I am really liking the story so far. The only part that is really not working for me is the bizarre phone sex lady. I'm glad that Toru is creeped out by her though! I think I wouldn't like him as much if he didn't keep hanging up on her.

    I hit a bit of a wall when Lieutenant Mamiya began his story but, by the end, I was engaged in that story as well. And I personally think that the empty box was an excuse for Honda to find someone that Mamiya could confess his story to. Honda already knew that Toru was a good listener from the times he had visited and respectfully listened to his war stories. The gift was actually for Mamiya -- a chance to unburden himself after so many years. Honda didn't want Toru to open it in front of Mamiya because then Mamiya would know that it was a ruse.

    I am not having any problems with the translation so far and am very excited to continue on next month! I haven't really thought about where the story will go but I'm afraid for Toru's marriage after he found the perfume. All I'm really hoping for is that Noboru Wataya (the cat) is okay and that Noboru Wataya (the man) gets what he deserves.

  3. I posted my thoughts on Book One over at my blog where I answered a few of the questions.My Book One thoughts

    I am really am enjoying this read. It is interesting to read this story right after I have finished A Wild Sheep Chase. I like Toru so much better than the narrator in Sheep Chase. I think Toru is more believable. So far, this story is more believable, yet I hesitate to think that the whole story will remain this way. Regardless, I am liking Murakami's writing. He has a fabulous way of drawing me into his story even though there does not seem to be much going on. I am not certain where this story is headed but I am looking forward to finding out.

    As far as the empty box is concerned, I have no clue as to its significance, yet I feel like there is one.

    I am curious though, as I have no experience with Japanese culture, I found it interesting to read of Toru's clothing as well as what he eats. It seems influenced by western culture. Am I off base on that?

  4. Kristen M. - the phone sex lady is odd to me as well. I am also glad to read that Toru is creeped by it as well. Odd...wonder if it will play more into the story though, as we go along.?.

  5. Thank you guys for taking the time to comment and post about the book. I'm sorry that I didn't get back here to comment sooner. I first read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle a few years ago and even though quite a few scenes were still imprinted in my memory, I'd forgotten a lot of the details. But I got behind in my reading earlier this month and just finished reading Book One last weekend. Add in a busy week and here I am well after the fact, sorry. I promise to be on time for the discussion of Book Two! :)

    Anyway, even though I know how the story is more or less going to go, I am really enjoying it all over again, and can't wait to read on.

    Michelle - I first read Wind-up Bird about 6 years ago and I've never forgotten that skinning scene! I wonder how anyone could?!

    It's true that the stranger the character, the stranger the name. That can't be a coincidence.

    Kristen - I love your interpretation of what the empty box means. It makes so much sense!

    ibeeeg - I'm in the same situation. I (re)read this straight after A Wild Sheep Chase, and after finishing Book One, I'm now reading Dance Dance Dance. LOL. So I keep alternating between these two narrators. I do see some similarities between them, especially in their general easy-going manner, and how they tend to accept whatever comes their way.

    You wrote:
    I am liking Murakami's writing. He has a fabulous way of drawing me into his story even though there does not seem to be much going on. I am not certain where this story is headed but I am looking forward to finding out.

    That pretty much describes all of his books for me! He somehow sucks me right in, and then it's so much fun to just go along for the ride.

    Murakami is known for using Western cultural references, especially music, literature etc. in his books. For clothes, most Japanese wear Western style clothes day to day, and only wear kimonos for special occasions, so I don't find that unusual at all. And Western food is very popular. There are Italian restaurants literally everywhere, and so many other types of restaurants too. Toru does eat some typical Japanese food too, but you're right, he may eat more Western food than the average Japanese would. I think this is just Murakami's thing.

    Hmm, I can't remember where the 'phone sex lady' story line goes. I'm looking forward to reading Book Two.


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