A Newly Discovered Japanese Jewel
I first came across this book (and this author, for that matter) when I happened to see a news article last May about the long awaited book that he was about to release and the subsequent line ups of people waiting to buy the book all over Japan. It was as if a Rock Star was planning a new album release. The new book hasn’t been scheduled for an English translation yet, so I was unable to get a copy to read the new release for myself. However, after a little investigation, I found out a lot more about Haruki Murakami. His story is an inspirational one and he is only new to me apparently. His books have been hugely popular with both critics and readers alike all over the world. He is especially popular with U.S. critics, including the New York Times. So all of that intrigued me to look into him a little further.
The first novel that I read was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. This fantastic story intertwines a complicated story line with a strong connection to the surreal and the spiritual. It picks up on the protagonist, Toru Okada, standing in his kitchen making spaghetti when the phone rings. When he picks it up it is a woman who he has never met before and she seems to know who he is and other odd facts about his life and his wife. She suddenly cuts the connection. When she calls back a little later, she boldly asks to come and see him at his home. He reluctantly agrees to this, even though he really thinks it would be wiser not to.
His style is unfamiliar and yet absorbing at the same time. I believe that it may turn some people off, however it is unique and it works beautifully in the unwinding of his story of love, betrayal, and redemption. The book reads like a thriller, a mystery, and a literary classic all rolled into one. But don’t take my word for it, see it in action for yourself.
Toru Okada carries on with his fairly boring day (and boring life…) until the time comes for his unknown visitor to show up. From here, we are launched into a fast paced mystery that moves fast enough to keep you turning the pages, yet slow enough to allay the beauty of Mr. Murakami’s prose. What follows is the discovery by Toru that his life is far more than it appears to be, with a complex amount of connections that were never apparent to him before.
It starts with a hunt for his wife’s missing cat. He has disappeared and as he is at home doing nothing after quitting his job that he hated, Toru is the one to search the neighborhood for the absent animal. As he does so, he meets the teenage girl who lives across the back alley and at the end of the block from him, May Kasahara. Her back yard faces his and his neighbor’s backyards. She is a morbidly cheerful girl with obvious problems at home and at school, obvious by the fact she spends most of her time at home. Her own story happens alongside Toru’s search. She observes him almost more than she talks with him. While she tries in her desperate teenage way to be dark and ominous, her undeniable cheerfulness betrays her more often than she would like it to. Throughout the novel she continues to act as more than the little girl down the street, she offers advice and insight that far out weigh her years. She is but only one part of the many intersecting lives that formulate this novel, however her story is the foil for Toru Okada throughout, and so she is that much more imminent to the reader.
From the initial search for the cat, Toru finds himself unexpectedly thrown into a search for his wife, who doesn’t return home from work that day. His easy and uncomplicated life has now become a lonely and desperate one with the disappearance of Kumiko. He wonders if she has been having an affair, although no matter how he tries to look at it, he just can’t see her having one. She would be the type who would be more likely to tell him outright if that she were or if that was where she was headed. Sneaking around wasn’t her style, it was beneath her.
All I can do is give you a basic overview. To try and get into detail about the story would betray its style and most likely sound confusing. Besides, it is far too complicated and interconnected to even try. It is a testament of Mr. Murakami’s talent and skill as to how he does this. For me to try and show you or even to explain it, would require me to virtually re-write it all here. So what I can do is encourage you to read this book and experience it for yourself. It is richly filled with wonderful language that survives the translation process superbly, kudos must be given to the translator, Mr. Jay Rubin, who has also translated many other of Mr. Murakami’s novels.
The book has several plot lines that are all intriguing in their own right, the shocking story of the WWII veteran, the bizarre life of a mind prostitute, and the rise to power of his wife’s estranged brother. They could easily exist all on their own but they all revolve around the search that Toru is on. It seems more and more important for him to find the cat and that it is somehow connected to the mystery of why his wife has left him.
By the end of this engaging story you feel as if you are a friend of Toru’s and that you want to make sure that he is doing okay. When this is accomplished by any author, it is a great success. The fact that Haruki Murakami does this on a regular basis can be regarded as something much more than a success, he is a rare gift to the writing world. I am more than happy to have discovered him, no matter how late in the game I was. I am grateful.
I hope that you are too.