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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by
Murakami Haruki


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle



Title: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1995 (Eng. 1997)
Length: 611 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - US
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - UK
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Canada
Les chroniques de l'oiseau à ressort - France
Mister Aufziehvogel - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: ねじまき鳥クロニクル
  • Translated by Jay Rubin
  • Based on the story "The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday's Women", which can be found in the collection The Elephant Vanishes
  • In a review in World Literature Today Yoshiko Yokochi Samuel writes that "the English version has been subjected to extensive cutting, undoubtedly under pressure from the publisher". This sad fact is now confirmed in Jay Rubin's Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, where he writes that it was "stipulated in Murakami's contract that the book should not exceed a certain length". Rubin, in fact, handed in both an abridged and a complete translation, but Knopf stuck to their ridiculous word-limit. May they suffer at the hands of the literary gods for their crimes against helpless readers and Murakami. But it's just another reminder, that when you read a book in translation you're getting screwed -- often far worse than you could even contemplate.

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Our Assessment:

A- : big, entertaining, off-beat book

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Artforum . Winter/1997 Martha Baer
Atlantic Monthly . 11/1997 Phoebe-Lou Adams
The Economist A 15/2/1997 .
Far East. Econ. Rev. A- 15/1/1998 J. D. Johnson
London Rev. of Books . 30/9/1999 Lorna Sage
The LA Times A 29/10/1997 Jonathan Kirsch
The New Republic A- 11/5/1998 Michael Wood
The New Yorker . 15/12/1997 .
The NY Times B 31/10/1997 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. A 2/11/1997 Jamie James
Salon A- 24/11/1997 Laura Miller
San Fran. Bay Guardian . 29/10/1997 Kevin Hunsanger
The Spectator B- 20/6/1998 Tom Hiney
Time A- 3/11/1997 Pico Iyer
The Times B 26/3/1998 Joanna Pitman
TLS A 1/5/1998 Julian Ferraro
The Village Voice B 11/11/1997 Ed Park
Die Welt B+ 27/2/1999 Wieland Freund
World Lit. Today A Spring/1999 Y.Y. Samuel
Yale Review C 1/1998 Lindsley Cameron


Please note that The Economist's review refers to the original Japanese edition, not the translation under review here.


  Review Consensus:

  All find points to praise, but there is no consensus on the book as a whole. Some believe it is a successful, well-rounded piece, others that it has too many loose end.

  Note that if Yoshiko Yokochi Samuel is correct in saying that "the English version has been subjected to extensive cutting", this fact might help explain why there are a few loose ends in the English version.


  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel is a deliberately confusing, illogical image of a confusing, illogical world. It is not easy reading, but it is never less than absorbing." - Phoebe-Lou Adams, Atlantic Monthly

  • "The writing is weirdly effective. (...) Read the book." - The Economist

  • "(A)s the journey progresses, Murakami pulls a thread at the centre of his web that draws this odd collection of characters and evidence closer together. His intimately woven world is meditative and violent, psychic and sexy, funny and cute." - J. Douglas Johnson, Far Eastern Economic Review

  • "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does not quite find the precise and yet capacious form for which it is searching, and sometimes, I think, Murakami seems to be miming disarray rather than exploring it or unfolding it. Still, very few recent novels have so accurately or inventively caught the killing power, or the silencing power, of other lives and the stories of other lives, especially when they are imperfectly buried." - Michael Wood, The New Republic

  • "Wind-Up Bird has some powerful scenes of antic comedy and some shattering scenes of historical power, but such moments do not add up to a satisfying, fully fashioned novel. In trying to depict a fragmented, chaotic and ultimately unknowable world, Mr. Murakami has written a fragmentary and chaotic book." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Yet what Murakami lacks in finesse is more than compensated by the brilliance of his invention. (...) Murakami has written a bold and generous book, and one that would have lost a great deal by being tidied up." - Jamie James, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The first 600 pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle offer much unadulterated reading pleasure, and it's only as the remaining pages grow ominously sparse that the proverbial sinking feeling sets in. Even if he does provide for Toru, Murakami can't, in the end, gather all his novel's intriguing subplots and mysterious minor characters together convincingly, and he summarily drops whole handfuls of loose ends." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "Themes abound in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but the work is mainly fueled by chance and destiny. Throughout the novel, scenarios present themselves to Okada, situations that shift the path of his tale. As characters enter his life, they pull him into their world -- literally. He becomes a tourist within shifting interior landscapes, and through multiple eyes, Okada's dreamlike search for identity in the midst of chaos is revealed." - Kevin Hunsanger, San Francisco Bay Guardian

  • "With the exception of the fascinating war chapters, there are some weak moments in this novel: at times it reads like a bad Thomas Pynchon rip-off. It is occasionally heartfelt, lyrical and even dazzling, but there is a major problem that keeps recurring, as far as holding the reader's attention." - Tom Hiney, The Spectator

  • "Murakami's storytelling ease and the pellucid, uncluttered backdrop he lays down allow moments to flare up memorably. Yet the overall effect of his grand but somewhat abstract novel is to give us X ray after X ray into the benumbed soul of a wannabe Prozac Nation." - Pico Iyer, Time

  • "(Murakami) is a serial mysticist, which can be trying; but he usually leavens his work with a sufficiently batty humour to maintain this reader's sympathies. Did this one have to be so damned depressing ?" - Joanna Pitman, The Times

  • "(I)t is testament to the power and skill of Murakami's storytelling that such a bizarre chain of events unfolds with a plausible, if surreal, logic that leaves the reader accepting each new twist as reasonable. This is achieved in part by combining the depiction of the surreal and supernatural with a careful delineation of the more banal excesses of modern life." - Julian Ferraro, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Those with a predilection for sitting alone at the bottom of an abandoned well will likely take to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the latest novel by the intermittently engaging Haruki Murakami. Three characters, including our everyman narrator (ex-law-firm dogsbody Toru Okada), do their share of well sitting, with attendant transformations and nightmares. There follows a great deal of mystical gobbledygook that neither the narrator nor the reader can fathom." - Ed Park, The Village Voice

  • "Haruki Murakamis Mister Aufziehvogel ist ein verzweifelt esoterischer Roman. Nicht seine Geheimnisse machen ihn groß, sondern eine Einsicht, gegen die der Text selbst sich 700 Seiten lang wehrt, und die er am Ende doch transportiert: Die Geheimnisse sind bereits zerstört worden." - Wieland Freund, Die Welt

  • "A delightful story, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle demonstrates the enormity of Murakami's literary imagination and his thoughtful insight into the meaning of postmodern reality. The translation, capturing the style and aura of the original, is equally enjoyable. It is regrettable, however, that the English version has been subjected to extensive cutting, undoubtedly under pressure from the publisher." - Yoshiko Yokochi Samuel, World Literature Today

  • "A third of the way through, I began to think of adorning the jacket with a bumper sticker saying, "I'd rather be reading Kobo Abe." Halfway through, I decided the sticker should say, "I'd rather be reading almost anyone," and by the time I was done with this monster of a novel, I concluded that the hours I had devoted to it would have been better spent watching all twenty-two Godzilla movies." - Lindsley Cameron, Yale Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a big, rambling book. The almost always entertaining and imaginative Murakami here weaves a complex tale in a simple setting, covering a great deal of ground and making for an enjoyable read.
       Narrator Toru Okada quit his job a few months before the book begins. He worked as a legal assistant, a job he had held since graduating from college, but that held no more appeal for him. His wife Kumiko works as a magazine editor, and makes enough for them to get by. Toru is not too ambitious. He putters around the house. He cooks. He goes out to look for the family cat.
       Life, of course, takes some unusual turns. He gets strange phone calls, and meets a woman called Malta Okano, who tells him that her sister, Creta, was raped by his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya, five years earlier. The sinister and unpleasant Wataya has become famous and influential after writing a big economics book. Noboru Wataya also happens to be the cat's name, and Malta offers to help find the missing feline.
       Toru makes other new acquaintances, such as neighborhood teen May Kasahara who shows him an empty well that he later takes to. Creta Kano also introduces herself, and tells her story.
       Toru lives in "a narrow world, a world that was standing still", but outside forces do push and tug at him, the strange lives of those he encounters echoing oddly in his own empty life. His wife, Kumiko, once told him: "There's a kind of gap between what I think is real and what's really real", an affliction from which many of the characters seem to suffer. When Toru's main anchor, his wife, simply disappears from his life, Toru is left bereft -- but he still can't rouse himself, drifting along with (or rather buffeted by) the lives of others.
       A Lieutenant Mamiya tells long stories of Japan's military past, horrors from the war that also have odd connexions to the present. Much of the book contrasts Japan's military past and its present.
       Life around Toru remains uncertain. He takes to the empty well, withdrawing there to ponder, his retreat of last resort. Occasionally he finds himself stuck there, without a way of getting out. Mysteries continue to unfold, including the question of what really happened to his wife who -- her relatives say -- wants to divorce him. Toru meets Nutmeg Akasaka and her computer savvy son Cinnamon, who helps him contact his wife on-line.
       The people and mysteries swirl around Toru, coming together and falling apart. He is not a center that can hold. The novel reaches a vaguely (if not entirely) satisfying conclusion.
       Murakami offers many tangential stories, some of which are very good. Horrors from World War II contrast neatly with the lost and aimless atmosphere of modern times. There is little feel of the bustle and obsessiveness of modern Japan. Toru interacts with few people, and they too live isolated or out-of-the-ordinary lives. Nevertheless, it gives a picture of a disaffected country that has lost its way -- and of some underlying hope.
       Rich (though occasionally too quirky) characters and much neat invention make The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a consistently entertaining read. Murakami very effectively sets a mood, and sustains it throughout. The story does not come together quite as neatly as one might hope, but it is still a good one. A fine, big, entertaining read.

       Note that if Yoshiko Yokochi Samuel is correct in saying (in a review in World Literature Today) that "the English version has been subjected to extensive cutting", this fact might help explain why there are a few loose ends in the English version. If it bothers you -- and it should -- contact the publishers and tell them that you don't want them making stupid editorial decisions like this on your behalf: translations (already a crime against literature) should be as true to the original as possible -- and that certainly means NO cuts under ANY circumstances.

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Links:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Reviews: Murakami Haruki: Other books by Murakami Haruki under review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review
  • David Mitchell's Murakamiesque Ghostwritten

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949. He attended Waseda University. He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.

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