I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year. The historical information sounded interesting, important even, when I was stuck at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport for three days and willing to trade food vouchers for a good book. If you find yourself stuck in a blizzard in a strange airport, I recommend this book to get you through. In that situation, you want nothing more than to return to some previous, more idyllic state, to crawl into your psyche and figure out what brought you there, where you are really headed and why.
Of course, the book is good in any setting, planes shuffling down an icy tarmac or not.
I’ve been a fan of fiction with historical notes for a while, so maybe that’s why I was drawn into all of the characters’ stories about Japan, The War, but less by the initially-passive main character. I should correct that–he seems passive at first, but I suppose I should say that he’s active in his own way. He’s an active listener, eager to hear the stories of the characters he encounters. And to solve his problems, the main character takes to investigating by spending large amount of time sitting in a well. That is, to fix his marriage, he must enter the well to re-discover his interior self, which includes his greater culture and national history.
I recently picked up a copy of Jay Rubin’s biography of Murakami—Rubin is a dedicated Murakami translator. In this biography, he has a note about the name Toru, the name of the main character in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. He writes:
“The name Toru (literally, “to pass through”) was used in Norwegian Wood, perhaps to indicate that the protagonist was making his passage into adulthood. In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, however, Toru learns to “pass through” the wall separating the ordinary world with the world of the unknown. [...] his name is later written with a Chinese character meaning “to receive,” which suggests passivity. It therefore seems to imply both activity and passivity.” p.208
The act of receiving. Learning to enter an unfamiliar part of life. Who knew that what I felt as a reader could have been so easily explained if I weren’t reading a translation? If only I could get past that first lesson in Rosetta Stone where I’m yelling juusu (juice) at the computer for half an hour, I might be able to dig deeper into the texts.
I’m thinking that the novel suggests that as characters in our own lives, we are passive receptors of our culture, conduits between the past and the present of our national history. Apt for a country that relies on its soft power through cultural exports, like anime, to remain a dominant player. But, think about this Murakami theme for a while this weekend: it is only through the present that we can make an impact on the future, even if our impact is *only* appropriately hero-sized for own lives.
To each of you, a well of your own.