Murakami’s Killing Commendatore – A Brief Book Review

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami . When I spotted his latest book in our local book store BooksActually – actually it was my wife who first spotted it – I bought it in a heartbeat. I don’t collect books these days as my wife prefers a ‘minimalist’ home. But when it comes to Murakami, my wife knows that it is a sacred space of mine that needs to be left alone. For as long as Murakami keeps on writing, I shall keep on buying. At times, I collect both the English translated version as well as the Chinese translated version.

If you are new to Murakami, I would imagine how daunting it may be to pick a book to start. His classic books tend to have that rawness that can have more impact in terms of plot twists and emotion but the journey could be more irregular. That is to say, some parts could drag on and the plot could become pretty bizarre. His recent books tend to be more refined, more believable, and with a more predictable pace. Killing Commendatore belongs to the latter category.

It is a story of a male artist whose marriage is falling apart and he paints portraits to pay the bills but it is not necessarily something he is passionate about doing. Killing Commendatore is a journey of this artist rediscovering his passion and in the midst of it, rediscovers himself. Through this journey, this artist encounters different characters – real and surreal – including one that spawns from a painting. There are different threads of stories running in parallel interacting with one and other – which is typical of Murakami’s writing style.

Killing Commendatore is a fascinating read. I would recommend this book to readers who are new to Murakami as well as to those who are familiar with him.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – A Fascinating Read Filled With Mysteries

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a fascinating read. In fact, this is my third read in the span of a few years. Each pass I am able to spot more linkages between the plots. And more passages highlighted for future reference.

Like many of Murakami novels, Colorless is filled with mysteries. The main character – a 36 years old Tsukuru Tazaki – recounted one moment in his college life, that he had contemplated to commit suicide. It all started with a group of five back in school. Every one with a name associated to a color except Tsukuru.

Soon, the other four friends began to use nicknames: the boys were called Aka (red) and Ao (blue); and the girls were Shiro (white) and Kuro (black). But he just remained Tsukuru. How great it would be, he often thought, if I had a color in my name too. Then everything would be perfect.

Out of nowhere, all four friends of Tsukuru have refused to talk to and to meet with him. The shock was so intense that he had lost the will to live.

“That was the first time in my life that anyone has rejected me so completely,” Tsukuru said. “And the ones who did it were the people I trusted the most, my four best friends in the world. I was so close to them that they had been like an extension of my own body. Searching for a reason, or correcting a misunderstanding, was beyond me. I was simply, and utterly, in shock. So much so that I thought I might never recover. It felt like something inside me had snapped.”

Tsukuru recounted his story because his new girlfriend Sara wanted to know more about this emotional burden that has been hindering the relationship. More so, Sara wants Tsukuru to face his past. As Sara has once said:

You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.

This sets off the direction of Colorless with the ultimate rewards of Sara becoming Tsukuru’s serious girlfriend and Tsukuru getting to know exactly what went on with his four best friends abandoning him at the same time.

The good news is that this book is an entertaining read from beginning to end. The not so good news is that at the end of book, you still would not know the answers to the two ultimate questions. But here lies the brilliance of this book. We could imagine what the outcomes would be. But we may never grasp what is real. Like our main character Tsukuru once experienced. There are going to be plenty open questions.

And he couldn’t grasp the boundary between dream and imagination, between what was imaginary and what was real.

What I love most about Colorless is how well planned the plot is. Sara does not appear often in this book. But she drives the entire story. She uncovers the issues and she wants a resolution. Even as Tsukuru (and the readers too) has no clue on what to do next, Sara drops hints at the crucial moment on what is to come. She is like the prophet, always one step ahead. While many including I would debate on what Sara would do with Tsukuru when all is resolved, I am leaning towards a happy ending because Sara comes across to me as someone who knows exactly what she wants. Her moves are reliability predictable. I doubt she has any agenda except to remove this emotional burden of Tsukuru so that their relationship can move forward.

Now, the story between Sara and Tsukuru is easy to summarize. How the mystery unfolds is not. Because the subplots are subtly linked through different time lines and storyline. And how the dreams affect the imagination which in turn distort the reality adds another layer of abstract to the story.

Putting all that aside, there are consistent references to having to make hard decisions, though seemingly unrelated during my first read. Let’s think of body and heart.

In this dream, though, he burned with desire for a woman. It wasn’t clear who she was. She was just there. And she had a special ability to separate her body and her heart. I will give you one of them, she told Tsukuru. My body or my heart. But you can’t have both. You need to choose one or the other, right now. I will give the other part to someone else, she said.

(This would make a good conversation. In real life though, which would you choose and why?)

In the context of corporate ‘brainwashing’ though executive training:

I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We’re going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I’m sorry, but it’s already decided. It can’t be changed. Here’s the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it’s going to be – your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be?

(That pretty much sums up what real world can be like at work.)

And finally, the resolution.

“And in order to do that, I had to cut you off. It was impossible to protect you and protect her at the same time. I had to accept one of you completely, and reject the other one entirely.”

To go back to my leaning towards a happy ending, let’s go back to the final conversation between Eri (Kuro) and Tsukuru.

“But it’s strange, isn’t it?” Eri said.

“What is?”

“That amazing time in our lives is gone, and will never return. All the beautiful possibilities we had then have been swallowed up in the flow of time.”

Tsukuru nodded silently. He thought he should say something, but no words came.

What was it that he wanted to say as he was pondering upon whether or not Sara would accept him in the very end of the book?

Not everything was lost in the flow of time. That’s what Tsukuru should have said to Eri when he said goodbye […]

What then survives the flow of time? I believe that it is hope.

We truly believed in something back then, and we knew we were the kind of people capable of believing in something – with all our hearts. And that kind of hope will never simply vanish.

While I am happy to be able to extract that much from the book, one side-plot still eludes me is on Haida (Grey).

Haida became Tsukuru’s best friend after Tsukuru has decided that dying was not the best option moving forward. Besides, to will his heart to stop was as he found out later an impossible task. Here are what I have gathered from the story of Haida.

  • Grey is a mix of black and white. The two colors that symbolize Shiro and Kuro – the two girls in the original group of five. It seems to me that Haida is a male replacement of the two.
  • The sexually insinuated dreams between Tsukuru, Shiro, and Kuro has been once replaced by a dream involving Tsukuru and Haida, also sexual in nature.
  • To me, the original group of five reminds me of a hand with five fingers. It was natural. Haida has come across as the sixth finger.
  • Haida once recounted a story of his father (also called Haida) to Tsukuru. At one point, Tsukuru thought the story came from Haida himself.
  • Haida (the father) has met a jazz pianist called Midorikawa (Green) who in possession of (1) a mysterious small bag, (2) a special ability to see aura, and (3) a deadly burden that temporarily granted him the special ability but would cost him his life unless he could pass this deadly burden to a willing party.
  • Haida (the father) did not accept. Midorikawa has then disappeared.
  • Haida (Tsukuru’s friend) all of a sudden disappeared from Tsukuru’s life.
  • The story of his father may have been the story of Haida himself.
  • One of Tsukuru’s side mission is to find out what happened to Haida in order to fully remove his emotional burden. The book does not seem to have a resolution on this side-story.
  • Years later, a formaldehyde jar containing two severed sixth fingers are found in one of Tsukuru’s train stations.
  • This jar, I presume, belongs to Midorikawa – the mysterious small bag. So the story is real. Could this be the resolution?

So many ways to interpret the story. Did Haida accept the deadly burden and hence explains his second disappearance? Did he have the special ability all along or only after his first disappearance? Is that why there were those surreal moments between him and Tsukuru? More importantly, how does this story branch relate to the main story, if at all?

Still, Tsukuru felt that Haida’s clear eyes had seen right though him that night, to what lay in his unconscious. Traces of Haida’s gaze still stung, like a mild burn. Haida had, at that time, observed Tsukuru’s secret fantasies and desires, examining and dissecting them one by one […]

One constant theme in this book is about death and disappearance, heartache and reconciliation, reborn and recover. That much I can be certain of.

ISBN 978-4-16-382110-8

Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle at Singapore Esplanade Theatre (May 25 & 26, 2012) – See You There!

This is a leap of faith that has a dollar sign implication to my pocket.  A theater adaptation of Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.  Would that work?  We have seen the film adaptation of his Norwegian Wood.  While the content by and large appears to be faithful to the book, some essence in my opinion is lost.  As for this upcoming play, fortunately, I have some help in making the decision of to watch, or not to watch.  If you are tantalized by the news that The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is going to be performed at Singapore Esplanade Theatre, look no further.  There is expert advice for sharing, and there are some personal thoughts I have for you.  Let’s start with the expert views.

Expert Views

Last weekend, I was invited for a panel discussion at Ngee Ann City’s Kinokuniya bookstore.  The topic was The Art of Adaptation: Moving Beyond the Pages.  The discussion was facilitated by Kenneth Kwok, Deputy Director from the National Arts Council.  The two speakers were Margaret Chan, theater actress and academic, and Adeline Chia, arts correspondent with Straits Times.  I did not know what to expect or what was expected of me, because I have not attended a panel discussion in public before.  The last time I spoke through a pair of loudspeakers in Orchard was when my band performed for a charity.  This time, it did feel odd speaking in public voicing my personal opinions with shoppers passing by.  Just a little bit.

I don’t think Margaret Chan has read this book, or any of Murakami’s novel.  Her discussion contribution was largely based on her experience as a theater actress.  She quoted that authors are dead.  It is the readers who keep the books alive, or audience who ‘make’ the movie.  I suppose what it means is that forget about how much is being adapted, what do you get out of it?  How do you interpret the story?  She also highlighted that in a theater setting, it is often rich in visual imagery.  Live acting also adds a unique flavor to the presentation of the art.  Something we may wish to take note of when we watch The Wind-up Bird Chronicle as a play.

Adeline Chia, on the other hand, has read many of Murakami’s works.  She is such a fan that she does not want to watch the film adaptation of Norwegian Wood knowing well that the movie may not live up to the expectation.  Fair enough.  Does she think that a film can be as good as, if not better than a book?  It is possible, she said.  And she cited a few examples such as No Country For Old Man, Paprika, and The Shining.  As for me, I am finding it hard to make comparison between different medias of adaptation (including video games).  It boils down to one thing: How do you like the experience?  There are instances whereby watching a movie like Troy could well be a better experience for most mortals today than reading that book (I am looking at you, Homer).  Mel Gibson has done a great job in directing The Passion, an adaption of one of the Bible stories.  Paulo Coelho has also done a fantastic book adaption of the story of Elijah from the Hebrew Bible.  His book is called The Fifth Mountain.  A Game of Thrones TV adaptation seems to have done well, something I would like to judge it myself once I get hold of the discs.

There are many examples that adaptation can be successful.  I wish Margaret and Adeline could tell us more about the ingredients of success.  Their advice is: Forget about the book and enjoy the play as it is.  As someone who has read the book and is a big fan of Murakami, I would need something more to make that decision of to watch, or not to watch.

My Thoughts

I am not sure if the 68-page photo booklet titled Making of Wind-up Bird Chronicle by the director Stephen Earnhart would be on sales in the evenings of the performance.  If you are a fan of the play, do grab a copy.  It is filled with beautiful photographs – on set and beyond – as well as a brief documentation of his creative process.  Before creating this play, Earnhart has lived in the Far East for almost a year.  He talked to the locals, even met up with Murakami without knowing the author’ superstar status.  To visually present the interrelation of realism and surrealism, Earnhart relies on light and technology and props such as a puppet.   I do not know what the outcome of the play is to be.  As someone who has read the book, the photographs taken from the set seem convincing.  Hence, the leap of faith.

I will not walk into the theater pretending that I have not read the book.  Specifically, I would like to see how the director and his crew tackle the theme of free will versus fate.  I also want to see how the abstract concept of something can be visually presented.  Because the book puts much emphasis on each of us having that something within that defines who we are.  I want to see how the unseen world is interpreted by the director.  In additional, I am also interested to see how metaphors are incorporated into the play.  I am looking forward to hearing some Jazz music and seeing some kitchen scenes – signatures of some of Murakumi’s stories.  Last but not the least, I want to experience the loneliness at the bottom of a well through the actor.  If you are interested, a deeper discussion can be found in my book review.

Where to Get the Tickets?

There are three time slots in total – May 25, 2012 (Fri) 8pm, May 26 (Sat) 3pm & 8pm.  Cynthia and I are going to watch the last session.  Thinking of joining us?  Head to Sistic.com.sg today!

1Q84 By By Haruki Murakami – A Magical Read

1Q84 is the 10th Murakami book that I have read.  There are similarities when compared to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.  It is divided into three books that span across three consecutive time periods.  Each chapter is named using a phrase found inside that chapter. 1Q84 further explores the concept of free will versus destiny and fate.  Having a page count of 925 covering the topics of cult religion, love and friendship, murder and violence, history and philosophy, 1Q84 is an ambition work of literature.  In addition, 1Q84 opens us to the world of alternative realities and it embeds stories within a story.  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has a theme on Big Brother.  1Q84 – a world that bears a question – switches the theme to Little People.  I took my time in devouring the entire book slowly and I enjoyed every bit of it.  For those who are new to Murakami, he is a Japanese writer and has won literature awards such as Jerusalem Prize.  Milan Kundera and Don DeLillo are among the prize winners whose work I also enjoy reading.  In view of this, perhaps I shall explore that list further in order to expand my reading horizon.

Some readers of my site have asked why I am so into Murakami’s books.  It is hard to describe.  But in the best I can, his unique style works for me.  Murakami tends to spend much effort in building the characters as well as the environment that wraps around the plot.  When writing in the mode of realism, Murakami put much details onto every single elements making them alive and real.  When writing in the mode of surrealism, Murakami describes the unimaginable so well that you feel as though you are sucked into this surreal vision.  The author is meticulous in crafting the plot, down to the very detail that links multiple plots into one.  His works are often filled with mystery that readers have little idea on where the story is heading.  In my limited reading experience, I have not read any book quite like his, in the same quality level.

Book 1 begins with the story of Aomame.  She is inside a taxi stuck in a traffic jam listening to classical music played on the radio.  On one highway, she has decided to get off the taxi, walk down the emergency exit and take a subway.  Before leaving the taxi, the driver says the following.

“It’s just that you’re about to something out of the ordinary … And after you do something like that, everyday look of things might seem to change a little.  Things may look different to you than they did before … But don’t let appearances fool you.  There’s always only one reality.”

That pretty much kicks start the concept of an alternative reality.  And before the author reveals the nature of Aomame’s appointment that cannot be missed, chapter two brings in a new character called Tengo.  He is a mathematics teacher by day and writes literature as his hobby.  He is about to encounter a writing competition submission by a seventeen years old girl.  Her story Air Chrysalis may read like a fantasy but it is slowly shifting into the very reality Tengo lives in.  How are the two main characters going to interact in 1Q84 when they have no such possibility in 1984?  This book by and large follows a structure that toggles the stories between Aomame and Tengo.  Throughout the book, there is this concept of light and shadow, or maza and dohta.  There are enough logos and hooks that make the twin stories connect, and not feeling disjointed.  Murakami varies the timeline too by allows part of the plots to overlap in time.  The result is that although the plots run in different threads, the overall story is not confusing.  Characters may overlaps.  But Murakami is meticulous to distinguish what each character knows in their story line versus what he or she speculates or does not know.  Taking all in, 1Q84 is a magical read.

Readers who are used to the author’s first person writing style may feel a need for a certain adjustment when reading 1Q84.  The twin stories are written from the third person perspective, with main characters’ thoughts written in italic and in a first person style.  It does feel odd in the beginning.  But this works better than some authors who switch the alternate stories in first person style whereby confusion may become a major hindrance to reading.  Among the three books of 1Q84, I would rank book two high in action and entertainment value.  Because of that, book three seems a bit slow.  It feels as though Murakami is trying very hard to control the pace, to impart upon us this sense of anxiety and lost, danger and death – slowly and steadily.  As always, patience readers are rewarded accordingly.  I don’t see a need to rush through the plots.  There is a reason and time for everything in life.

I would say 1Q84 is perhaps Murakami’s most polished work to date.  The hard copy design is beautiful.  On the front cover, there is a picture of a woman and at the back, a man.  On alternate pages, the page number and the book title is reversely printed.  Even the inlaid pictures of the moons are reversed comparing the ones in front and the ones at the back.  After finished reading the book, I cannot think of a better art design than this.  I have read 1Q84 in English and I am looking forward to reading the same story in Chinese.  I could be wrong to think that the Chinese version may be closer to the original Japanese version.  But I am keen to see the difference between the two – English translation versus Chinese translation.

Similar to my previous book summary entries, I am going to share some of the favorite quotes I found in the book.  I am often careful in not giving out too much spoilers.  If you intend to read the book, you may stop here and return to see if these are your favorite quotes too.

A while back, my friend and I had a lengthy discussion on practice versus talent.  On page 65, Murakami talks about talents versus instinct.

You can have tons of talent, but it won’t necessarily keep you fed.  If you have sharp instincts, though, you’ll never go hungry.

As for the next paragraph, I like the way the author describes the situation when communication breaks down.

[She] fell silent again, but this time it did not seem deliberate.  She simply could not fathom the purpose of his question or what prompted him to ask it.  His question hadn’t landed in any region of her consciousness.  It seemed to have gone beyond the bounds of meaning, sucked into permanent nothingness like a lone planetary exploration rocket that has sailed beyond Pluto.

“Never mind,” he said, giving up. “It’s not important.”  It had been a mistake even to ask [her] such a question.

I do enjoy reading some of the dialogues between two people.  Here is one on a dog.

“How’s Bun?” she asked.

“She’s fine,” [he] answered.  Bun was the female German shepherd that lived in his house, a good-nature dog, and smart, despite a few odd habits.

“Is she still eating her spinach?” [she] asked.

“As much as ever.  And with the price of spinach as high as it’s been, that’s no small expense!”

“I’ve never seen a German shepherd that liked spinach before.”

“She doesn’t know she’s a dog.”

“What does she think she is?”

“Well, she seems to think she’s a special being that transcends classification.”

“Superdog?”

“Maybe so.”

“Which is why she likes spinach?”

“No, that’s another matter.  She just likes spinach.  Has since she was a pup.”

“But maybe that’s where she gets these dangerous thoughts of hers.”

“Maybe so.”

The next paragraph – I believe – is not written by Murakami and is taken from a book called Sakhalin Island by a Russian writer, Anton Chekhov.  I find it a beautiful read.  And its style blends well into the story.

… The roaring sea is cold and colourless in appearance, and the tall grey waves pound upon the sand, as if wishing to say in despair: “Oh God, why did you create us?”  This is the Naibuchi river the convicts can be heard rapping away with axes on the building work, while on the other, far distant, imagined shore, lies America … to the left the capes of Sakhalin are visible in the mist, and to the right are more capes … while all around there is not a single living soul, not a bird, not a fly, and it is beyond comprehension who the waves are roaring for, who listens to them at nights here, what they want, and, finally, who they would roar for when I was gone.  There on the shore one is overcome not by connected, logical thoughts, but by reflections and reveries.  It is a sinister sensation, and yet at the very same time you feel the desire to stand for ever looking at the monotonous movement of the waves and listening to their threatening roar.

How would you write about ‘time’?  Here is the author’s attempt in describing time.  That is a pretty interesting way to observe time and us.

[He] knew that time could become deformed as it moved forward.  Time itself was uniform in composition, but once consumed, it took on a deformed shape.  one period of time might be terribly heavy and long, while another could be light and short.  Occasionally the order of things could be reversed, and in the worst cases order itself could vanish entirely.  Sometimes things that should not be there at all might be added onto time.  By adjusting time this way to suit their own purposes, people probably adjusted the meaning of their existences.  In other words, by add such operations to time, they were able – but just barely – to preserve their own sanity.  Surely, if a person had to accept the time through which he had just passed uniformly in the given order, his nerves could not bear the strain.  Such a life, [he] felt, would be sheer torture.

Through the expansion of the brain, people had acquired the concept of temporality, but they simultaneously learned ways in which  to change and adjust time.  In parallel with their ceaseless consumption of time, people would ceaselessly reproduce time that they had mentally adjusted.

I like the way Murakami describes reality.

… where I’m living is not a storybook world.  It’s the real world, full of gaps and inconsistencies and anticlimaxes.

And here is the most cryptic message of all.  I think that has something to do with beliefs.

If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.

1Q84 has also quoted Karl Jung.  I now recall that quite a few of my favorite books quote Karl Jung.

It is as evil as we are positive … the more desperately we try to be good and wonderful and perfect, the more the Shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive … The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the Shadow descends to hell and becomes the devil.  For it is just as sinful from the standpoint of nature and of truth to be above oneself as to be below oneself.

Within the story of 1Q84, Tengo is given a task of ghostwriting a fantasy book written by a seventeen years old girl.  In that story, there are two moons.  Tengo’s editor keeps on telling him that when writing something out of ordinary, more details need to be added so that readers are able to visualize.  But how?  Later on when that story diffuses into the main story, here is Murakami’s take in describing a scene with two moons.  He further infuses this symbolic vision into some of the characters, making this paragraph read more like a prophecy.

No doubt about it: there were two moons.

One was the moon that had always been there, and the other was a far smaller, greenish moon, somewhat lopsided in shape, and much less bright.  It looked like a poor, ugly, distantly related child that had been foisted on the family by unfortunate events and was welcomed by no one.  But it was undeniably there, neither a phantom nor an optical illusion, hanging in space like other heavenly bodies, a solid mass with a clear-cut outline.  Not a plane, not a blimp, not an artificial satellite, not a papier-mâché moon that someone made for fun.  It was without a doubt a chunk of rock, having quietly, stubbornly settled on a position in the night sky, like a punctuation mark placed only after long deliberation or a mole bestowed by destiny.

Here is one on hope and trials.

Wherever there’s hope there’s a trial … Hope, however, is limited, and generally abstract, while there are countless trials, and they tend to be concrete.

I also happen to like how Murakami describes clouds.

The clouds continued to scud off toward the south.  No matter how many were blown away, others appeared to take their place.  There was an inexhaustible source of clouds in some land far to the north.  Decisive people, minds fixed on the task, clothes in thick, gray uniforms, working silently from morning to night to make clouds, like bees make honey, spiders make webs, and war makes widows.

Finally, a quote by Tolstoy, another Russian writer.

All happiness is alike, but each pain is painful in its own way.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle By Haruki Murakami – So Unreal, So Mesmerizing

The paperback version of “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” is more than 600 pages long.  It sat inside my bookshelf for a long time because I was not sure if I have the patience to digest such a mightily thick book (to me that is).  I brought it along anyway for my trip to Hong Kong.  I did not manage to finish reading it because I was distracted by a fantasy book I picked up at the airport.  It took me another week in Singapore to finish it off.  If not for my holiday, it would take mightily long for me to complete.  Now I am looking at his new book “1Q84” that I bought in Hong Kong with deep concern.  That too looks thick, divided into three books like “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”.

“The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” is surprisingly engaging.  I was glued to the story not wanting to put down.  Not many story books these days have this effect on me.  The book is not quite a page turner in a sense that it takes some effort to digest the content.  But it is worth it.  From start till the very end, I had no idea which way the story is heading.  Book One is titled “The Thieving Magpie” and it documents the events that happened between June to July 1984.  Then we have Book Two titled “Bird as Prophet” for events that happened between July to October 1984.  The last books is “The Birthcatcher” that spans a longer time frame of October 1984 to December 1985.

After reading the first few chapters, I concluded that this book has a very strong “Murakami” feel.  As in we could have wiped out the author’s name and avid readers would immediately identify the author.  While the setup may be as such, the story has evolved into something it is unexpected of.  Each character added into the story carries with him or her an unique story.  Centered to the story is the narrator, a man who is ordinary and laid back, whose wife is becoming more distant as days go by.  And they have recently lost a cat.  It seems like such an ordinary story but it is not.  It get more and more complicated and interconnected as the story unfolds and as the little parts chained together.  At some point, I wished I had drawn out a relationship diagram like some of the fellow readers would have done.

Authors like Murakami write stories that lead to open interpretation.  I am sure some of you may interpret “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” in a completely different way.  But here is mine.  There are a few themes that have emerged.  First is fate versus free will.  The entire story, or at least a good part of it, is driven by fate and prophesies.  Every character seems to exist for a specific reason to fulfill one’s fate and affect others to fulfill theirs.  If it is prophesied that someone is not going to die outside Japanese’s soul in World War II, he or she no matter what will not die.  But that does not mean a happy ending.  And in a morbid way, death may not mean a bad ending either.  It is how fate plays out and people will have to accept the circumstances.  Free will then becomes an illusion.

And then we have our narrator who is surrounded by fate and prophesies of others (and his), by and large goes with the flow, but unafraid of pursuing what he ultimately wants.  That opens up the second theme of this something that exists inside us.  This concept is perhaps the most abstract concept coming from this book.  Most of the time, as a reader, I am unable to pinpoint or even visualize what this something is.  This something could be sinister and evil.  Some use this something to hurt others.  Some possesses this something as an ability to heal others that are bothered by that something inside them.  Like the subject of psychology, it takes time and word to describe that something.  And hence the rather long stories that each character carries.

The good news is that as far as I can remember, there is some kind of closure for each character’s bizarre ‘somethingness’.  Some may demand a bit of open interpretation but it is there.  The third theme I can see is the theme of reality versus the unseen world.  Within the boundary of the story, what is real and what is not?  We are taught that literature that is narrated in first person may not be entirely trustworthy as we are seeing the world through the narrator’s eyes.  But what if those chapters that are outside of this rule may not may not be real within this boundary?  This book has missing chapters that we know should exist within the story’s boundary but are not revealed to us.  And yet some chapters that are revealed to us may not even exist in the eyes of the narrator.  To make matters more intriguing, there seems to be some invisible linkages between certain characters.  Are they the same person or entity?  How do they relate?  Explicitly, this story is divided into a physical reality and a realm that exists only for the soul.  Hence, summing all up, “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle” is engaging, but it does take time to digest.

The fourth theme I can think of is more like a metaphor.  A metaphor that depicts politic as secretive and dirty.  It is probably one of the harder concept to grasp in this book.  What does defilement of body and mind mean?  How does one possibly become a ‘prostitute of mind’?  While reading the book, I kept on wondering if some of these concepts are lost in translation, or simply misunderstood due to cultural gap.  That, together with the triviality of hacking into a computer like many Hollywood movies are the only tiny complaints I have with the book.

Similar to some of the recent book summary I have written, below are some of the memorable quotes.  Is knowing your future a blessing?  Or is it a curse?  If you are to know that you cannot die till a certain age, how is it going to change your life?

When the revelation and the grace were life, my life was lost.  Those living things that had once been there inside me, that had been for that reason of some value, were dead now.  Not a single thing was left.  They had all been burned to ashes in that fierce light.  The heat emitted by that revelation or grace had seared away the very core of the life that made me the person I am.  Surely I had lacked the strength to resist that heat.  And so I feel no fear of death.  If anything, my physical death would be, for me, a form of salvation.  It would liberate me for ever from this hopeless prison, this pain of being me.

The next one is on money.  It is a rather long quote.  I like the punch line at the end of the paragraph.

The address – an office building in the wealthy Akasaka district – was the only thing on the card.  There was no name.  I turned it over to check the back, but it was blank.  I brought the card to my nose, but it had no fragrance.  It was just a normal white card.

“No name?” I said.

She smiled for the first time and gently shook her head from side to side, “I believe that what you need is money.  Does money have a name?”

I shook my head as she was doing.  Money had no name, of course.  And if it did have a name, it would no longer be money.  What gave money its true meaning was its dark-night namelessness, its breathtaking interchangeability.

And here is one confession from a girl to a man in the form of a letter.  Often when I think of my personal weakness, I seem not have a straightforward answer.  Perhaps, the answer is as simple as this.

I’m sorry, though.  I know I should never have done that to you (or to anybody).  But I can’t help myself sometimes.  I know exactly what I’m doing, but I just can’t stop.  That’s my greatest weakness.

Finally, there is one quote on work.  It could be something most of us can relate.

Lately, it’s really been bothering me that, I don’t know, the way people work like this every day from morning to night is kind of weird.  Hasn’t it ever struck you as strange?  I mean, all I do here is do the work that my bosses tell me to do the way they tell me to do it.  I don’t have to think at all.  It’s like I just put my brain in a locker before I start work and pick it up on the way home.  I spend seven hours a day at a workbench … then I eat dinner in the cafeteria, take a bath, and of course I have to sleep, like everybody else, so out of a twenty-four-hour day, the amount of free time I have is nothing.  And because I’m so tired from work, the “free time” i have I mostly spend lying around in a fog.  I don’t have any time to sit and think about anything.  Of course, I don’t have to work at weekends, but then I have to catch up on the laundry and cleaning, and sometimes I go into town, and before I know it the weekend is over.  I once made up my mind to keep a diary, but I had nothing to write, so I gave up after a week.  I mean, I just do the same thing over and over again, day in, day out.