Friday, February 11, 2011

Navigating a Labyrinth

Is this reality, is this a dream, is this an hallucination? That's what I kept asking myself as I read Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. The protagonist/narrator Toru Okada, a mild-mannered underachiever living in a Tokyo suburb, somehow becomes involved in a series of a bizarre adventures. It begins with a missing cat, then a missing wife, then Okada is spending time at the bottom of a well or in a mysterious hotel room with a mysterious woman. There's a healer named Cinnamon with a mute son named Nutmeg, and a politician brother-in-law who may or may not be involved in the disappearance of Okada's wife.

Make sense? No, it really doesn't. But there was something compelling that kept me reading. Part of it was that my problem-solving self hoped that in the end all the pieces of this strange jigsaw puzzle would fit together. Spoiler alert – they don't. But part of it was that Murakami is a talented storyteller. Some of the best stories are told by characters who have little to do with the main plot – they arrive in Okada's life, tell their stories and leave. Some deal frankly with Japanese war crimes. Did I miss their connection to the narrative or was it just not there?

One disturbing fact that I learned after I had finished the book was that the English version of the novel was shortened by two chapters in order to meet the publisher's length requirements. It's yet another reminder that reading a translation always has its drawbacks. But reading a writer as talented as Haruki Murakami also has its rewards.

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