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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
reviewed by J.M. Frank

The Wind-Up Chronicle is a brilliant novel that works perfectly from start to finish. Murakami seamlessly blends a wide-range of styles into a plot that is never conventional or predictable. One component of the novel is a mystery that starts with the disappearance of a cat and the identity of an obscene phone caller. But, like any great mystery plot, each revelation leads to even larger mysteries. In this story, none of the characters we are introduced to can be taken at face value. Behind every person is a mystery, and it is the combined stories of these characters that coalesces into the book s complex plot.

Toru Okada, the protagonist, seems like the most normal guy you would ever find. He is mild-mannered, polite, with a comfortable, if undramatic marriage . But then his world goes a bit crazy, and we find he may not be so normal after all. Although Toru Okada sometimes seems to passively go wherever circumstances take him, at other times he moves with unwavering determination in the most unlikely directions. Toru Okada is one of the more interesting main characters in fiction, narrating with the same deadpan simplicity while doing everything from making spaghetti to beating someone with a baseball bat.

One of the characters I found most interesting in the book is May Kasahara, a teenage girl who strikes up an unusual relationship with Toru Okada. At times she appears to be his only friend, but her actions are so unpredictable that they might be just as likely to kill him as save him. May Kasahara is on a journey of her own, and her story is just as involving as that of the main character.

Murakami also blends in graphic and chilling war stories of World War II. Perhaps the most interesting elements of the story are the pieces that blend in psychics, telepathy, and the occult. On the one hand these elements are key to the story, yet Murakami always leaves enough ambiguity in cause and effect that a skeptic need never find the plot impossible. In fact, Murakami is a bit of a genius of ambiguity, creating a plot that blends in 1980 s Japan with the 1940 s on a different continent, realistic fiction with the world of dreams, and making it all work. Murakami achieves his goal by leaving the connections loose and ambiguous, yet leaving one with the final impression that it all fits together. A few readers may be disappointed to not have all the pieces and connections laid out for them in the end, but the ambiguity is not a trick it is part of the point. In the final analysis this is not a simple book about some guy and his wacky life. This is a book that speaks at many levels to the sometimes bizarre, sometimes unclear nature of life on this Earth.

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