Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

We finished out 2007 with another book by Haruki Murakami whom we read last year. (Kafka On the Shore) Wind-Up Bird follows the journey of a man whose marriage is in trouble. His search for his missing cat brings into his life an odd grouping of people - a 16 year old girl, a war veteran, a mute boy, faceless people, prostitutes and the worst... in-laws.

Set in modern Tokyo, Murakami deftly introduces a world that is neither real nor fantasy. His introduction of such things as alternate worlds under the ground are so well done that the reader doesn't question the reality presented even when the characters question it.

Murakami's style is very accessible in spite of the sometimes odd direction. He is very good at ending a chapter in the middle of a story which keeps you reading. He also intersects multiple stories together so while you're hanging on to finish one story Murakami sucks you into another. The connection between the story lines are subtle and if the two books we've read are an indication of his style, the subtlety is intended.

Our discussion of the book ranged from a debate about the metaphysical world, the nature of defilement, the translation of the book, and reoccurring themes. Cats are prominent, phone-sex pops up, baseball and many western references from music to popular culture.

The biographies of Murakami explain that he was (is) influenced by and enjoys western music, he was inspired to write his first novel while at a baseball game and that his writing style (short succinct chapters) is partly due to the fact that he wrote his first novel during breaks while at work. There are a few roaming cats on the Murakami website, which doesn't explain the significance.

Looking up Japanese mythology and cats the main reference is to the Beckoning Cat, or the manekineko . This cat, long long ago, stood in the door of the Gotoku-ji temple and raised her paw in the traditional Japanese beckoning gesture to a feudal lord who was passing by.

The feudal lord followed the cat into the temple and instantly, a lightning bolt struck the place where the lord had been standing. Thus the cat had saved his life. From then on, the manekineko was considered as an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy.

The Gotoku-ji Temple now houses dozens of statues of this Cat, and owners of lost or sick cats stick up prayer boards with the image of the Beckoning Cat in this temple.

In business the manekineko is said to bring success. This is because her raised paw beckons in customers. It also welcomes in personal happiness and harmony. A black Beckoning Cat brings health, while a gold one, which is quite rare, brings in riches. Beckoning Cats are often sold as money boxes and in a house they are supposed to beckon in good friends.

Finally, our discussion came around to the purchasing of the book itself. More than two of us had the experience where the book was not for sale on the shelves of the bookstore. We also had a similar experience with the Kafka book. Combing through the Internet (google) the best reference to this amazingly references a Seattle bookshop owner. (Just a guess Michael Coy.)

The New York Times examines what books are shoplifted the most.

At a major independent bookstore in Seattle, the senior buyer said graphic novels, as well as books about the Beats and tattoos, disappear pretty often. He added, interestingly, that the enigmatic novels of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (pictured) have begun to disappear at a fast clip. His explanation: “In his own way, Murakami is a subversive writer with an outlaw sensibility. His characters have this Everyman thing going on, but they are also working against the grain.”

During the course of the evening only one major complaint was raised and that was related to the seemingly unrelated story lines, although not everyone had the same experience. Some of u s (me) missed a major plot point in a "minor" story chapter and so we say to you... pay attention!

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