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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Week 1 (Spoiler)

75 Books Challenge for 2011

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Jul 14, 2011, 6:55am Top

Hey everyone! This is a big book and I will break it up into 2 parts. We'll read up to Chapter 13 for the 1st week. Once again, this is just a suggested reading plan. Please read at your own comfortable pace.

Jul 14, 2011, 3:31pm Top

I am not joining in on this group read, but I want to wish everyone a great time with the book!

Jul 15, 2011, 5:08pm Top

I started reading the book last night and got to page 25. I will probably be slow on this one. I just finished Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and that group read was over two weeks ago. Of course that is the beauty of this kind of book discussion - I can post comments even after everybody else has read the book.

Jul 15, 2011, 8:28pm Top

I too started reading last night. I'm quite intrigued by Murakami's writing so far. It is very straight-forward and simple. As opposed to David Mitchell, it is much more about what he is saying, not how he is saying it. For instance, I liked how Murakami describes Kumiko's brother and Toru's relationship with him at the end of chapter six.

I'm intrigued by the characters and the plot and am looking forward to reading more!

Jul 15, 2011, 8:30pm Top

I'm not ready to reread this one yet, but I remember being struck with the quality of the writing/translation too. If it's this good in English, the Japanese must be phenomenal!

Jul 16, 2011, 7:30am Top

"There was a small strand of trees nearby, and from it you could hear the mechanical cry of a bird that sounded as if it were winding a spring. We called it the wind-up bird...
Every day it would come to the stand of trees in our neighborhood and wind the spring of our quiet little world."

Needless to say, Murakami grabbed me right away. Yes, it's a big book but the narrative is quick and nimble.

Jul 16, 2011, 6:39pm Top

I just finished reading one book so now can devote myself to this one completely. Like Mark said it has sucked me in and I am only on page 47. Not at all like Norwegian Wood. That book was hard to get into and stayed that way for me. This one makes me think it is going to be as good as Kafka on the Shore.

Jul 16, 2011, 8:54pm Top

#5 I was thinking about the translation too. In the CIP notes of my copy of Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, it says that it is translated by Jay Rubin "with the participation of the author" (emphasis is mine). That makes me think that Murakami is able to monitor tone and style to a certain degree, but I don't know.

I tried to find out a bit about his translators and found this article. The difference in the examples between the Birnbaum and Rubin translations of passages from Norwegian Wood were significant, which makes we wonder if we are hearing the authentic voice of the author. Rubin's translations are much cleaner than Birnbaum's, which is what I was responding to in post #4. As I learned just from skimming the article, the problems associated with translating Japanese into English are huge. *sigh* If only I could speak more languages!

Jul 17, 2011, 12:13am Top

# 8 "makes we wonder if we are hearing the authentic voice of the author."

Me too.

I read Rubin's translation of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and thought he did a very good job translating such a complex book.

Jul 17, 2011, 11:21am Top

Ditto. I really like his translations of murakami.

Jul 17, 2011, 9:25pm Top

I'm reading Rubin's translation too and loving it. I wish I could have read deeper into it this weekend, just over a 100 pages.

Help me out here people: Didn't Norwegian Wood also feature a mysterious well? Has he done this in other books too? I also know he has a thing for cats.

Jul 17, 2011, 10:00pm Top

I've become more interested in the translation issue. All quotes below are from Jay Rubin, the translator, in an email exchange published on Borzoi Reader.

"I did virtually all the cutting on WIND-UP, but I would have done none at all if Knopf hadn't told Haruki that the book was too long and would have to be cut by some number of words (I think it was around 25,000 words). Afraid that they would hire some freelancer who could wreak havoc on the novel, and filled with a megalomaniac certainty that I knew every word in the book--maybe better than the author himself--after having translated all three hefty volumes, I decided to forestall the horror by submitting my manuscript in two versions: complete, and cut. Knopf took my cut version pretty much as is (which no doubt saved them a lot of work and expense; like Phil, I was not recognized as an editor in anything other than the notice in the front of the book)." American version is significantly shorter than original.

"...Haruki did NOT, however, adopt the large cuts made for the translation into the Japanese paperback, though I have not done a systematic comparison of the two. Another different text is the British version from Harvill, which has British spellings and expressions." Japanese hardcover and paperback versions are different.

"About the student's finding whole chapters missing from the translation of WIND-UP BIRD. It's true. I felt that Book 3, which came out a year after Books 1 and 2, rendered much of the ending of Book 2 irrelevant, thought that, as long as major cutting was being required by the American publisher, that part of the book was the best candidate for cutting. I still think the translation is tighter and cleaner than the original, but I suppose that very tightness can be viewed as a distortion of the original, an Americanization of a Japanese work of art. (emphasis mine) I had a great time doing it, though. It turned out to be a MUCH more complex process than I had imagined, and I'd probably have trouble myself now trying to reconstruct the steps I went through."

"The Japanese language is SO different from English--even when used by a writer as Americanized as Murakami is--that true literal translation is impossible, and the translator's subjective processing is inevitably going to play a large part. That processing is a GOOD THING; it involves a continual critical questioning of the meaning of the text. The LAST thing you want is a translator who believes he is a totally passive medium for transferring one set of grammatical structures into another: then you're going to get mindless garbage, not literature."

Jul 18, 2011, 5:52pm Top

Murakami taught at Princeton University for many years before he became a successful author and he is proficient in English. I read somewhere that he doesn't like to translate and that is the reason why he doesn't do his own translating, but I couldn't find that statement today when I went to look for it. I think this translation is very good. Not stiff or awkward.

Norwegian Wood did have a well in it. So does Kafka on the Shore. I wonder why he includes them in each of his books. If I get time tomorrow I will try to find that answer.

Jul 18, 2011, 6:01pm Top

This gets more and more interesting. Murakami may not like translating his own work, but boy, has he translated a lot of American authors into Japanese. According to Wikipedia:

C. D. B. Bryan - The Great Dethriffe
Truman Capote - A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, Breakfast at Tiffany's, I Remember Grandpa, Children on Their Birthdays
Raymond Carver - All Works of Raymond Carver
Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely, The Long Goodbye
Bill Crow - Jazz Anecdotes, From Birdland to Broadway
Terry Farish - The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup
F. Scott Fitzgerald - My Lost City, The Great Gatsby
Jim Fusilli - The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds
Mikal Gilmore - Shot in the Heart
Mark Helprin - Swan Lake
John Irving - Setting Free the Bears
Ursula K. Le Guin - Catwings, Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, Jane on her Own
Tim O'Brien - The Nuclear Age, The Things They Carried, July, July
Grace Paley - Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, The Little Disturbances of Man
J. D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye
Mark Strand - Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories
Paul Theroux - World's End and Other Stories
Chris Van Allsburg - The Polar Express, The Wretched Stone, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Ben's Dream, Two Bad Ants, The Sweetest Fig, The Window's Broom, The Stranger, The Wreck of the Zephyer, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Jul 19, 2011, 1:05pm Top

Umh! That sheds a whole different light on the subject of Murakami and translation. That is lots of translating. I also wonder why he wrote his books in Japanese if he is so proficient in English? I think it is time to do a little research on Murakami. I'll be somebody is teaching whole classes on his work!

My personal introduction to Murakami was through my book discussion group. Somebody suggested that we read Kafka on the Shore and all of us really liked the book. I would often sit at the local coffee shop while I was reading that book. One evening a young woman came up to me and asked me if that was a Murakami book I was reading. She had recognized the cover. She had read Wild Sheep Chase and she thought it was the best book she had ever read! Then several years later I was in a coffee shop in Manhattan, KS on a Saturday morning. A man was sitting in a sunny window reading Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I recognized the cover) so I went up to him and asked if that was a Murakami book he was reading. He said it was and that the book was so good that he had taken the morning off from his family to sit in a coffee shop and finish reading it. Either it has something to do with coffee shops and Murakami, or just Murakami, or maybe people that read Murakami like coffee. However, I have been reading this book at the coffee shop in Barnes & Noble and nobody has commented on it - so far.

Jul 19, 2011, 1:15pm Top

What a great story! Thanks for sharing. I was just listening to a podcast that was talking about Esquire magazines list of 75 books all men should read. The podcaster said Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was one of the books he was embarrassed to say he had not yet read.

I think I read that Muramaki doesn't like translating from Japanese to English. I'm not sure why.

Jul 19, 2011, 1:43pm Top

# 15 Hey these incidences in themselves could be the plot of a Murakami book!

Jul 19, 2011, 5:52pm Top

Take a look at the official Random House web site for Murakami. It is fascinating. What I like is the complete listing of music used in his works. Take the time to read the note on the side as it tells what version of the book to which the page numbers refer. The amount of music listed in his books is mind boggling. And some of them are part of the story.


Jul 19, 2011, 8:09pm Top

Lisa- Thanks for sharing that list. I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and he mentioned doing translations, but I did not realize how many. Wow!

Benita- Thanks for sharing your introduction to Murakami. My first was also Kafka, which really sold me on his work. I love his official site too! I need to get over and finish again.
Speaking of wells, he really gets deep into them, on this one. I do not remember the one in Kafka.

I read a nice chunk today. What a strange trip. I'm a big fan of David Lynch, the film-maker and I am constantly reminded of him, as I read this. Wouldn't that make a great collaboration?
These dream sequences are freaky!

Jul 20, 2011, 9:42am Top

If I remember correctly there was a well in the first scene in the book where the children were on the school outing with the teacher, and there is a well in the scene with the Buddha and the rock. I am trying to remember if there were others. And of course there was the well in Norwegian Wood.

I am only on page 72 of this book and reading slowly. I should get more read this week.

Jul 20, 2011, 10:40am Top

Does anyone else feel like Toru is a character with little initiative? Things happen to him, very strange things, but he does not create a whole lot of change. Even his verbal responses are very unopinionated: if you say so, I don't know, you must be right. He speaks like this, even to a 16 year old. I wonder if it is a cultural thing, a way of being very polite, or if Murakami is deliberately creating a character to which and through which things happen without obstruction or Toru's even being aware of it. Even when Toru does act (the well, watching people, etc.), it is always upon the advice of other people. I find it very strange. Almost as though he has no personality or initiative, but is simply a robot. Not that he is a machine, but that he is a blank, not even knowing his own mind or his own emotions.

Jul 20, 2011, 11:55am Top

# 21 It's true. The character of Toru Okada just goes with the flow of things. He hardly ever reacts to anything. Its odd how disconnected he appears. But in the end he seemed strangely transformed to me.

Jul 20, 2011, 12:36pm Top

Lisa, thank you for that fascinating information on the translation.

Benita, your coffee shop experiences were fun to read about.

Mark, I'm glad to know that Kafka on the Shore is another good one by Murakami.
Norwegian Wood was entertaining, but I'm not entirely certain I "got it."

Lisa and Porua... I'm glad we're talking about Toru as an odd character. He does seem
rather lifeless to me. He lived in a "narrow world of strange things" (Pg. 125) for sure.
I find it interesting that he never has a plan for his day and can meet people at any time.
Well, I am rather unscheduled in that I don't work outside the home, but I do have a plan
for every day... even if it is to sit in the air-conditioning and read!

I also found the emphasis on household chores a bit strange. Toru spends more time
on laundry and meals than I do. I suppose Murakami is trying to emphasize that Toru needs
to get a life.

Jul 20, 2011, 2:50pm Top

Hello, I'm jumping in a bit late here but am pleased to find others are reading this too. Thank you for your welcome, msf591!

I like Toru a lot and find him quite a "Zen" character with his mindful approach to household chores and willingness to go with the flow. I accept he does take this quite far though!

I thought it was interesting when the medium, Mr Honda told Toru that he didn't belong to the materialistic, absolute world of legal work saying,

"You don't belong to that world, son. The world you belong to is above that or below that."

Jul 20, 2011, 4:05pm Top

Mark, I have a housekeeping question. You said this thread was for the first half of the book, through chapter 13. Do you mean Book 1? Each book has a chapter 13. I'm not sure what is safe to talk about. Most of the things I'm marking for discussion are in Books 2 and 3. It took me that long just to figure out what was going on. Not that things have become a whole lot clearer yet. :-)

Jul 20, 2011, 8:06pm Top

Lisa- Thanks for pointing that out! I just picked the midway of the book, not realizing it was broke into Books. Week One ends at Chapter 13, Book 2. I started the Week 2 Thread

Week 2

I'm moving right along, about at the 360 page mark.

Jul 20, 2011, 9:31pm Top

#23 & others

I am not that far into this book, but agree with you in your observations about Toru. I too think that Toru is sort of a blank slate. I noticed this in other lead characters in Murakami's work. The lead character in Norwegian Wood was very much that way and I thought this character was as well. In the case of Norwegian Wood I put it down to cultural differences and thought that was why I might have had trouble understanding why this was a best seller in Japan. Perhaps the Japanese could identify with the character a little better than I could, as I always felt that there was something missing either in the character or in me. Mechanically the writing in all of Murakami's books is superb. It is also interesting in that the lead character in Kafka was also floating along. However, he was also searching for himself and trying to discover who he was. Perhaps that is what Toru is doing? He says that is why he quit his job. He knew it wasn't the kind of job that was for him.

Jul 20, 2011, 11:28pm Top

This is what happens when I join a discussion about a book I have already read with readers who haven't read all of it yet. My fingers are itching to 'say' more on the subject of Toru's character but I don't want to lest I should reveal too much! I wouldn't want to ruin it for anybody.

Jul 21, 2011, 2:14pm Top

#28 Hi Porua! I finished last night in a burst of reading frenzy, so I'm going to post a few thoughts here, then move to week 2. Want to meet me there? I am so confused about so much and will look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Jul 21, 2011, 2:38pm Top

Although music is clearly a major theme in the book, and I hope someone more musical than I takes on that theme. I was more interested in the two books that the author mentions in WUBC. The first is in book 2, chapter 1 (subtitled "Appetite in Literature"). In my edition it is on page 181.

Toru remembers a passage from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and thinks:

Long before, I seemed to recall, I had read some kind of story about a man who keeps eating while he waits for something to happen... The reason I recalled it so clearly, it seemed, was that this part of the book had an intense reality to it. It seemed far more real to me, as literature, for the character's anxiety to cause this abnormal upsurge in appetite rather than to make him incapable of eating and drinking.

In contrast to A Farewell to Arms, though, I developed no appetite at all as I watched the hands of the clock in this quiet house, waiting for something to happen. And soon the thought crossed my mind that my failure to develop and appetite might be owing to the lack within me of this kind of literary reality. I felt as if I had become part of a badly written novel, that someone was taking me to task for being utterly unreal. And perhaps it was true.

The second literary reference is in book 2, chapter 12 (page 289-90) in my book:

Lying on the sofa, I did no thinking at all. I read a book, I listened to a classical music tape, I stared out at the rain falling in the garden. My cogitative powers seemed to have reached an all-time low... If I tried to recall anything, every muscle and nerve in my body seemed to creak with effort. I felt I had turned into the tin man from The Wizard of Oz, my joints rusted and in need of oil.

So why these two books? Well, the first is a war novel, and the part that Toru is thinking about is when a man is waiting for his wife to have a baby. There is a plot parallel in that Toru waits in the bar while xxx. But there is also the idea of literary reality. Is Murakami simply playing with us, or is there more to it than that?

The Wizard of Oz is a fantasy, a dream in which a young person is on a journey, a quest, to find something: a way home. A mysterious older man hiding behind a curtain tries to prevent that discovery. And the tin man is lacking a heart. There is a literal parallel to that in part 3. But is this part of Toru's personality problem all along? Is he missing a heart/passion?

Jul 21, 2011, 3:34pm Top

I had bookmarked that quote regarding A Farewell to Arms as my favorite line in the book so far, Lisa. My very favorite sentence is: "I felt as if I had become part of a badly written novel...."

I'm glad you made the observation about the tin man looking for a heart. When Toru went down the well, he said he was searching for reality, but it seems to me that he was looking for the same experience of light and grace that the Lt. had told him about earlier in the book. Sounds a lot like a heart transplant to me.

Toru actually did show some backbone or passion before this reference (202-203) when he stood up to Noboru Watayu with determination and these words, "I'm a living, breathing human being. If somebody hits me, I hit back." That doesn't show much "heart" but it did show a spark of life.

Lisa and Porua, you probably know the significance of the mark on Toru's face. I'd love to read right through to the end, but I stopped at Part 3 and will resume the book on Tuesday when I get back from a quick trip to Colorado.

Oh yeah, I did want to mention the skinning episode. Absolutely horrid. Unfortunately, that vivid writing made me a witness to one of the most gruesome scenes I've read about in a long time.

Jul 21, 2011, 8:30pm Top

Sorry, I meant to chime in yesterday, about the Toru discussion and then promptly forgot. Yes, I have found myself repeatedly frustrated by Toru's lack of emotion, especially during the whole lengthy scene in the well. He never got angry with May and never even questioned her about her reasons for abandoning him.
After some thought, I believe he felt he was destined to stay in the well and that May was just a catalyst. I am also curious about his thoughts, or lack of, about Creta. Does he care about her at all?

Lisa- I can't make any connections with the 2 book references, at least not yet.

Donna- Thanks for pointing out "Toru actually did show some backbone" with Noboru. It was nice to see Toru show some emotion but it almost seemed out of character.
Also, "you probably know the significance of the mark on Toru's face". Well, I don't. LOL.

Jul 21, 2011, 8:34pm Top

I am also curious about his thoughts, or lack of, about Creta. Does he care about her at all?

That's a question I'm struggling with as well, and the question only becomes more pressing as the book continues. What does she represent for him? I agree with May when she says that he has too many women around him!

Edited: Jul 22, 2011, 9:56am Top

# 29 Hello! I have posted my thoughts on the week two thread already. See you there!

# 31 "Lisa and Porua, you probably know the significance of the mark on Toru's face."

The mark is significant not because it appears on Toru's face but because of something else. Of course, like everything else it is not clearly explained but I understood its importance to a certain degree by the end.

Oh yeah the skinning alive scene was absolutely gruesome! But this first part of Lieutenant Mamiya’s narrative I found to be very engrossing too.

# 32 "After some thought, I believe he felt he was destined to stay in the well and that May was just a catalyst."

I think so too. He had to go down on that well. He has to understand the well thoroughly. That is the key to everything, you see.

I didn't try and analyze The Wind Up Bird Chronicle while reading it. I found that it is the best way to deal with it. If I tried to think too much about what was going on, what are the motivations of the characters, what does Toru's relation with May represent, I would have never gone beyond the first 200 or so pages.

Like Mr. Honda says to Toru,

“It’s not a question of better or worse. The point is, not to resist the flow. You go up when you’re supposed to go up and down when you’re supposed to go down. When you’re supposed to go up, find the highest tower and climb to the top. When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom. When there’s no flow, stay still. If you resist the flow, everything dries up. If everything dries up, the world is darkness. ‘I am he and / He is me: / Spring nightfall.’ Abandon the self, and there you are.”

I tried to keep an open mind and take it all in. Just like Toru does in the book I tried to go with the flow. Just let myself move along with the story. And I am glad to say I was rewarded amply for my patience.

Aug 1, 2011, 8:27pm Top

This is Week 2, if anyone is till around:


Aug 7, 2011, 7:27am Top

Well here I am at last (took a while to get hold of a copy).

Interesting point about the translation - I didn't realise that the Japanese original was that much longer. I'm also reading the Jay Rubin translation and there is a wonderful flow to the language.

Toru does seem to be very passive - I'm not sure if someone I cared about disappeared that I would just think that they had ID and if anything bad had happened to them the authorities would let me know. In some ways he does seem to be living his life as Mr Honda says in the quote that Porua posted.

Given where the split is between the week one and two threads I think that I need to get back to the book as soon as possible. So I'll probably be along to the week two thread within the next couple of days. I really want to know where this goes.

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