I rarely re-read novels, mostly because there are so many novels I want to read and haven’t yet. So far, my exceptions have been The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-Five, and now The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. When I first read it about 5 and 1/2 years ago, I thought it was one of my all-time favorites. Yet part of me wondered how well it would hold up a second time. It’s fascinatingly surreal, but it’s also relentlessly ambiguous, with lots of loose ends, as well as long stretches of mundanity (presumably to contrast and anchor the weird stuff).
Perhaps another reason why this book has stayed with me has to do with a somewhat bizarre coincidence that happened to me during my first reading back in 2005. After I had read the first 6 chapters, I left my copy of the book in a taxi. So I went to a bookstore to buy a new copy, and at the register, the clerk inserted a complimentary bookmark inside the book at some random page before handing it back to me. When I opened the book a few minutes later, I saw that the bookmark had been placed exactly where I had left off, in between chapters 6 and 7. Weird, right?
Today I’m just about halfway through my 2nd reading of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’m just as enthralled as I was the first time. The funny parts still make me laugh, and the eerie parts still chill my hide, and the mundane parts never go on long enough to bore me.
Here’s a passage I just finished reading, which captures much of the essence of what I love about this novel:
“Here’s what I think, Mr. Wind-Up Bird,” said May Kasahara. “Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person. But I can’t seem to do it. They just don’t get it. Of course, the problem could be that I’m not explaining it very well, but I think it’s because they’re not listening very well. They pretend to be listening, but they’re not, really. So I get worked up sometimes, and I do crazy things.”
“Like, say, trapping you in the well, or, like, when I’m riding on the back of a motorcycle, putting my hands over the eyes of the guy who’s driving.”