The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Book One Chapters 9-13, Book Two Chapters 1-2
By Dennis Abrams
Some observations and favorite bits:
Dreaming about Malta Kano, but distracted by Malta Kano’s Tyrolean hat — why Tyrolean? A sex dream.
Kumiko notices something strange about his voice, “Her sensitivity to such things was frightening.”
Toru’s sexual morality – never cheated on Kumiko, even with the co-worker from the law firm who needed to be ‘recharged.’ “I’m out of electricity now.”
Interesting that when Kumiko learns about the recharging, after getting over her anger and accepts that he’s telling her the truth that nothing happened tells him, “I’m probably going to do the same thing to you someday. And when that time comes, I want you to believe me. I have that right.”
May Kashara and her ubiquitous Hope regulars.
Loved the three categories of baldness – and May and Toru are such an interesting combo.
“I’m only sixteen,” she said, “and I don’t know much about the world, but I do know one thing for sure. If I’m pessimistic, then the adults in this world who are not pessimistic are a bunch of idiots.”
The story of the Miyawaki’s house. “Well, obviously, this story can’t have a bright, happy ending.”
The old-fashioned letter (heavy rice paper, brush-written bold black characters) from Tokutaro Mamiya, letting Toru know that the fortune-teller Mr. Honda had died, and had left him a keepsake.
The reminder of Mr. Honda’s verse: “Dying is the only way/For you to float free: Nomohan.”
Once again, Kumiko is late. Her surprise at the news. “I don’t understand people like that, what’s in their minds.”
Toru’s inability to tell his wife about May and the wigs. “My relationship with her was not that big a deal, finally: whether I mentioned it or not was of no consequence. Once it had flowed down a certain delicate channel, however, it had become cloaked in the opacity of secretiveness, whatever my original ‘intention’ may have been. The same thing had happened with Creta Kano…Maybe Kumiko had the same kind of secrets that she was keeping from me. With my own fund of secrets, I was in no position to blame her if she did.” Once again flow. And secrets and not knowing the other person.
Kumiko cleaning her ears with a cotton swab. What other novelist mentions stuff like that that grounds what is, let’s face it, an increasingly odd story with the utterly mundane. Plus, of course, ears.
Noboru Wataya running to become a Diet member.
Kumiko’s story of catching her brother masturbating while smelling her dead sister’s clothes. Their eyes caught.
Loved this: “Brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I studied my face in the mirror. For over two months now, since quitting my job, I had rarely entered the ‘outside world.’ I had been moving back and forth between the neighborhood shops, the ward pool, and this house. Aside from the Ginza and that hotel in Shinagawa, the farthest point I had traveled from home was the cleaner’s by the station. And in all that time, I had hardly seen anyone. Aside from Kumiko, the only people I could be said to have ‘seen’ in two months were Malta and Creta Kano and May Kasahara. It was a narrow world, a world that was standing still. But the narrower it became, and the more it betook of stillness, the more this world that enveloped me seemed to overflow with things and people that could only be called strange. They had been there all the while, it seemed, waiting in the shadows for me to stop moving. And everytime the wind-up bird came to my yard to wind its spring, the world descended more deeply into chaos…I rinsed my mouth and want on looking at my face for a time…I can’t find the image, I said to myself. I’m thirty, I’m standing still, and I can’t find the image.” – Marvelous. And what is the wind-up bird?
Kumiko’s new cologne – never a good sign. The hidden box, the gift to Kumiko.
Lieutenant Mamiya. His story. The Manchuria/Mongolia adventure. Yamamoto’s skinning (one of the more horrific scenes I’ve ever read).
Mamiya left to die at the bottom of the dark well (yes, another well!). “I don’t think you will ever be able to understand what it like – the utter loneliness, the feeling of desperation – to be abandoned in a dark well in the middle of the desert at the edge of the world, overcome with intense pain in total darkness.”
The momentary sunlight, it’s disappearance. And this: “For a long time, I simply remained huddled where I was, my face bathed in tears. As if beaten down by some huge power, I was unable to do – or even to think – anything at all, unable to feel even my own physical existence. I was a dried-up carcass, the cast-off shell of an insect. But then, once again, into the empty room of my mind, returned the prophecy of Corporal Honda: I would not die on the continent. Now, after the light had come and gone, I found myself able to believe his prophecy. I could believe it now because, in a place where I should have died, and at a time when I should have died, I had been unable to die. It was not that I would not die: I could not die. Do you understand what I am saying, Mr. Okada? Whatever heavenly grace I may have enjoyed until that moment was lost forever.”
Miraculously saved by Mr. Honda, his return to Japan: “I simply performed the mundane tasks that were handed to me one after another. I never had one real friend, no human ties with the students in my charge. I never loved anyone. I no longer knew what it meant to love another person. I would close my eyes and see Yamamoto being skinned alive. I dreamed about it over and over. Again and again I watched them peel the skin off and turn him into a lump of flesh. I could hear his heartrending screams. I also had dreams of myself slowly rotting away, alive, in the bottom of the well. Sometimes it seemed to me that that was what had really happened and that my life here was the dream…After returning to Japan, I lived like an empty shell. Living like an empty shell is not really living, no matter how many years it may go on. The heart and flesh of an empty shell give birth to nothing more than the life of an empty shell. This is what I hope I have made clear to you, Mr. Okada.” A perfect warning for Toru.
All that Mr. Honda had left Toru was an empty box. What? Why?
Kumiko’s disappearance: “Kumiko never came back that night….there was nothing more for me to do.”
His incredible calm, the soapy tasting coffee.
A call from Malta Kano (who seems to know something is up): “I don’t know anything for sure. I’m trying to work it out in my own mind. But I think my wife has left me.”
Kano’s response is a festival of generalities (albeit probably correct); “You must be very worried. There is nothing I can say at this point, but things should begin to come clear before too long. Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of the tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.” Again…flow.
More spaghetti – he does love his pasta, doesn’t he?
Kano’s prediction that Toru will receive a phone call from a person whose name begins with “O” comes true – the Omura liquor store.
It seems like the only clothes Kumiko took with her was the blouse and skirt she picked up at the cleaners before getting on the train.
Another wet dream about Creta Kano, in which the telephone woman takes her place. Why does she seem familiar? “Some kind of memory was trying to find its way out. I could feel it in there, bumping around. All I needed was a little hint. If I pulled that one tiny thread, then everything would come unraveled. The mystery was waiting for me to solve it. But that one slim thread was something I couldn’t find….I gave up trying to think. “Forget everything. You’re asleep. You’re dreaming. You’re lying in nice, warm mud. We all come out of the warm mud, and we all go back to it.”
May comforts Toru.
A call from Malta, setting up a meeting for the next day between her, Toru, and Noboru Wataya.
May calls Toru: “Tell me, Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” she said in the end. “Have you had any good news since I was there?” “No good news,” I said. “Nothing.”
We’re always taking a close look at the heroes of the books we read, which is why I found this, a look at the charming May Kasahara from Matthew Strecher, particularly interesting:
“Murakami heroes rarely undertake [their] quests without help; in A Wild Sheep Chase the hero is guided by a clairvoyant girlfriend who uses her psychic abilities to lead him to precisely the right locations, speeding the narrative along considerably…in the sequel to that work, Dance Dance Dance, the same hero searches for the girlfriend (who disappears near the end of A Wild Sheep Chase), as well as his lost idealism, with the help of a clairvoyant teenage girl named Yuki…
In The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Toru has help from a variety of psychics – the enigmatic Kano sisters, Malta and Creta, and old Mr. Honda – and from others who simply fill in the historical details for him. But no one seems to have the answers he finally needs, or the temerity to ‘tell it like it is,’ more than May Kasahara, a sixteen year-old high school dropout who lives in Toru’s neighborhood.
May Kasahara performs a central, even critical role in this story by expressing directly much of what we, the reader, might wish Toru to understand on his own. As a person, she is not much to look at, a skinny, awkward-looking girl in sunglasses and shorts, nearly always smoking one of her ‘Hope regulars,’ a popular brand of cigarette in Japan. But she is astute, and somehow manages to put her finger directly on the source of Toru’s problems. Her naturally candid nature allows her to tell Toru the truth about himself. It is she who wonders how Toru can know so little about his wife, despite having lived together for six years, and who asks the really tough questions, like whether he would take Kumiko back if she had been sleeping with someone else.
In a technical sense, May Kasahara also allows us to see Toru’s moral superiority, in contrast with the darkly sexual nature of Noboru Wataya. There is always a sexual tension between May Kasahara and Toru, expressed more by her than him. She often touches him, gently strokes him, making him keenly aware of her body. She talks freely with him about the size of her breasts, and dresses in ways that reveal her girlish, yet obviously female, body to him. When he is tired, she has him lie quietly while she caresses his hand, or kisses his flushed cheeks. In one of her letters, she even expresses (or almost expresses) her willingness to be raped by him.
But Toru’s inner nature, one of forbearance and self-control, will not allow him to betray the trust that May Kasahara shows in him by committing what would be, for him, an unpardonably immoral act. This, too, is something that has occurred before in Murakami’s writing: the hero of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, for instance, is propositioned suggestively by a sexy seventeen-year-old who clearly wants him to provide her first sexual experience, but he defers. The protagonist of Dance Dance Dance similarly will not respond to the infatuation of a teenage girl for whom he is temporarily responsible. The purpose of these relationships is always to determine the control with which Murakami’s heroes handle their sexual drives, not to suggest that sexuality is bad, but that there is ‘good’ sexuality and ‘bad’ sexuality, and the morally superior character knows the difference. This, as we shall see, contrasts with the behavior of Noboru Wataya, for whom sexuality is a means to power and control.”
And this, on water and flow:
“The word ‘flow’ occurs more than once…and not by accident, for with the possible exception of sexuality, there is no more important motif in this novel than flow and water.
As a symbol of course, water has a number of meanings that might be considered orthodox in literary circles: it can represent the flow of time, not unlike sand in an hourglass; it can represent fertility, the origin of all live; it can suggest constant change (one can never look twice at the ‘same’ river); it can indicate cyclicity; in the sense that water flows to the sea, is drawn up to the clouds, and falls again to the earth, eventually returning to the river to make its way to the sea again; and so forth.
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle makes use of all these conventional readings of water, and while Murakami likes to claim not to know what his own symbolism means (the ‘wind-up bird’ is a case in point!), water is one symbol that he understands well, and carefully crafts from one end of the novel to the other. Indeed, without too much difficulty we can read this entire novel as a ‘river of narrative, occasionally obstructed (at which point the narrative stops, at the end of Book Two), sometimes flowing rapidly and violently. The river of narrative, like a real river, flows sometimes above the ground, and sometimes beneath it. Perhaps most importantly, especially as a metaphor for time, most rivers meander in places, giving the impression of flowing in more than one direction. This may help us to envision [coming up in a later post] how time operates in this story.
We are clear on the critical importance of water and flow from the earliest stages in the text. Malta Kano, for instance, tells Toru that ‘something has obstructed the flow’ around his house, though whether she refers to real water or simply some metaphor of it is difficult to say. Later in the book, Toru recalls the cautionary advice of Honda, who warns him to beware of water. Sounding like a Buddhist sermon, Honda prophesies the conflict between Toru and Noboru, the roots of which lie in resisting the natural flow of things. ‘If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness.’”
So what do you all think so far? Thoughts? Questions?
My next posts: Friday, June 27, some background on Murakami and Nomohan; Tuesday, June 1, on The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Book Two, Chapters 3-12. (Is the reading pace OK with everyone? Too slow, too fast, just right?