When I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the first time, it was maddening. The passivity of Toru Okada was infuriating. I found myself with the book gripped tightly, half in each hand, hunched over in my chair, or in bed, hissing ‘Do something!‘
When I finished it, I was glad. I felt like I’d come out of a dream about a hot, stifling room.
When I read it the second time, it was because I felt the memory of being glad to have it done, and yet couldn’t stop thinking about it. The capped lane, or the well, or Okada’s kitchen with his beer and his beef and bell peppers. The desert in Machuria. The Russian mine. The zoo. All ever present. ‘Fine,’ I thought, ‘I’ll excise this ghost,’ and read it again.
The second time, the lyrics taken for the Cibo Matto song crawled off the page, like a spider, and I almost dropped the book in surprise. Had this book been sneaking around in my life all this time?
The parts were beautiful, but seemed not to cohere together. Later, I learned that parts were removed, when it was translated into English to Jay Rubin. Is that why bits seem off?
When I finished it the second time, I didn’t feel relief. I was surprised to find I liked it. I just couldn’t understand why it kept popping up in my thoughts, a persistent ghost. Is it just because I like magpies, that I used to hear them all the time from my window, winding the world? Is that it? That simple?
I still think about it. Normally I can say why I like or dislike a book. I like Ursula Le Guin for her themes and the way she looks at big things through her characters. I like Kurt Vonnegut for his patience and humour and compassion with human beings. I’m not even sure when I started to like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and yet I cannot stop thinking about it.
I borrowed my first copy, bought my second, and gave it away with a bunch of other books when I downsized. I regret that.
I usually only feel this unexplainable kind of attraction towards people.
I haven’t long finished putting the dishes away from dinner. My coffee is still warming my innards, like the soft, temporary glow of inner peace. It’s about eight, and the sun is gradually tinting the clouds a pale orange, the evening birdsong (a blackbird?) is drifting in my window with a soft, cool breeze.
Sat in my chair, with my socked feet up on my bed, I have 1Q84 on the quilt next to me. I was about to read it, to begin reading it, but as I was leafing through the front matter, the birdsong caught my ear and I momentarily slipped back to the capped lane in early spring, and a profound sense of peace washed over me, followed by the urge to write this.
I wonder if I’ll ever discover what it is about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that makes me sure I’ll never forget it.
Perhaps I’ll discover when I read it for the third or fourth time.