I am at page 475 of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and I can’t put it down – well, I don’t want to put it down. The irony is, there’s not much by way of action in the plot, but the author manages to build up suspense. Characters receive occult messages through dreams in the book and I started to pay attention to my own dreams!
Here is a favourite passage. It comes from May Kasahara, a 16-year-old girl our hero Toru befriends in the neighbourhood:
“If people lived forever – if they never got older – if they could just go on living in this world, never dying, always healthy – do you think they’d bother to think hard about things, the way we’re doing now? I mean, we think about just about everything, more or less – philosophy, psychology, logic. Religion. Literature. I think, if there were no such thing as death, that complicated thoughts and ideas like that would never come into the world […] I mean… this is what I think, but… people have to think seriously about what it means for them to be alive here and now because they know they’re going to die sometime. Right? Who would think about what it means to be alive if they were just going to go on living for ever? Why would they bother?” (258).
This strikes me as a very valid point about the arts and the humanities. Who would need to make a record of their presence in the world, if they knew it wasn’t ephemeral? History seems to be particularly irrelevant in this scenario. The same goes for visual arts.
The only bits I don’t like in the book are the descriptions in war scenes, but they play a significant role for the plot, so I’m trying not to imagine them too well.
I have absolute admiration for the translator, Jay Rubin. The text explores subtle ideas in an unpretentious way, but in the dialogues of course it is stylistically texturized, and the translator handles this gracefully. I love how the characters say “Maybe so” and “I wonder” as a reply to something they’re not sure about. Toru says “terrific” when something unpleasant and unexpected happens. I think this paragraph is a good example of the translator’s/author’s style:
“I close my eyes and separate from this flesh of mine, with its filthy tennis shoes, its weird goggles, its clumsy erection. Separating from the flesh is not so difficult. It can put me far more at ease, allow me to cast off the discomfort I feel. I am a weed-choked garden, a flightless stone bird, a dry well. I know that a woman is inside this vacant house that is myself. I cannot see her, but it doesn’t bother me any more. If she is looking for something inside here, I might as well give it to her” (368).