The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has a studied, leisurely pace, even for a Murakami novel. Toru Okada is thirty, lives in a Tokyo suburb, and is unemployed. His cat, named for his brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya, goes missing. While searching for the cat, Toru’s wife, Kumiko, also disappears. Toru is another Murakami protagonist who loves music, literature, and films. The best thing about being unemployed is that he can read whatever he wants whenever he wants. Without ambition, he is content to drift through life.
The novel’s title is supplied by May Kasahara, a teenage neighbor Toru meets while searching for the cat. He tells her about hearing every morning a bird that sounds like it is winding a spring, so she calls him Mr. Wind-Up Bird. Because they do not know what kind of bird it is and do not even see it, the name suggests the unknowable, ineffable qualities of life. Life and art overlap when Toru hears “Bird as Prophet,” one of Robert Schumann’s Waldszenen (1851; Forest Scenes). A radio announcer explains that the piece is about a mysterious bird who foretells the future.
Because Toru’s life is in a bit more turmoil each time he hears the bird, he begins to associate it with chaos. A mysterious mark that appears on his face also suggests that his life is out of kilter.
The cat is named for the brother-in-law, even though both Toru and Kumiko despise him, an academic whose first book is hailed as a new perspective on economics, leading to his becoming a media celebrity with political potential. Toru and Kumiko see him as overbearing and...
(The entire section is 658 words.)