The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Two (July – October 1984): Bird as Prophet. “When it is time to wait, you must wait.”

So many riddles. What is in the light that Lieutenant Mamiya described while he was at the bottom of the well in the desert of Outer Mongolia? What is the evil that Noboru seems to represent? Who is the woman, whose name she claims that Toru knows, but can’t remember? What does Malta know about good things and bad things that are entering his life at this time? What is that Kumiko wanted to tell him, but didn’t? And, finally, what (or whom) is the wind-up bird which winds up the world’s spring?

In Chapter One of Book Two we discover that Kumiko never came back one night. After one o’clock Malta Kano calls him to say, “I must tell you, Mr. Okada, I believe that the cat will almost certainly never be found. I hate to say this, but the best you can do is resign yourself to that fact. It is gone forever. Barring some major change, the cat will never come back.” (p. 118) Then she asks if there is something else with which she can help? It is as though she knows that Kumiko is the one who not to be found.

Two chapters later, Malta and Noburo meet Toru for coffee at the Shinagawa Pacific Hotel, where Toru met Malta before. Noburo tells him quite bluntly that Kumiko has taken another lover and left him. He goes on to say that Toru was wrong from the start; his head is full of garbage and rocks. Apparently, Kumiko had not only met with her brother to tell him she had taken a lover, she had met with Malta, after discussing the disappearance of the cat. “You will have to win with your own strength,” Malta tells him. “With your own hands.” Is it in his power to find his wife, Kumiko? To bring her back?

“Mr. Okada,” she (Malta) said, “I believe that you are entering a phase of your life in which many different things will occur. The disappearance of the cat is only the beginning.”

“Different things,” I said. “Good things or bad things?”

She tilted her head. “Good things and bad things. Bad things that seem good at first, and good things that seem bad at first.” (p. 44)

Another letter from Lieutenant Mamiya arrives, with information that he feels Toru alone would understand. Mamiya’s memories only get stronger with each time he tries to push them away. The time that the light struck him while he was in the well he saw a shape of something there, but he could not make out what it was. “It is trying to come to me, trying to confer something upon me very much like heavenly grace.” (p. 208) What he suffered with, more than hunger and thirst, was not being able to attain a clear view of what it was in the light. “Had I been able to see it clearly, I would not have minded dying right then and there. I truly felt that way. I would have suffered anything for a full view of that form.” (p. 209) But, just as Mr. Honda had told him, he could not die, even though he would have preferred physical death to liberate him from the pain of being himself.

Toru decides to go the bottom of the well in a vacant lot himself, to think. While at the bottom of the well, Toru has a dream that isn’t a dream that “happened to take the form of a dream.” He is talking to the woman who had first called him. She is in a room with a bouquet of freshly picked flowers with quite a heady scent. She tells him that he already knows her name. “All you have to do is remember it. If you can find my name, then I can get out of here. I can even help you find your wife; help you find Kumiko Okada. If you want to find your wife, try hard to discover my name. That is the lever you want. You don’t have time to stay lost. Every day you fail to find it, Kumiko Okada moves that much farther away from you.” (p. 246)

In the early years of their marriage, Kumiko became pregnant. While Toru wished her to have the baby, she decided it wasn’t good timing in their lives, and when he was away in Sapporo for a business trip, Kumiko had an abortion. Afterward, when they were talking about it, she told Toru she had something to tell him, but she just couldn’t yet. “I’m not hiding it from you. I’m planning to tell you sometime. You’re the only one I can tell. But I just can’t do it now. I can’t put it into words.” (p. 252)

And so, like Toru, I am waiting. Not at the bottom of the well, certainly, but pondering all these puzzle pieces as I ponder my own life and the people who have entered, and left, as we go on our journeys. And, while waiting, I can’t help but wonder if the name that Toru is looking for is Forgiveness.

I am reading this with Stephen, of Swift as Inspiration, as a shared read-along.

4 thoughts on “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Two (July – October 1984): Bird as Prophet. “When it is time to wait, you must wait.””

  1. Meredith, you’re two for two in book recommendations. This one is giving me a lot to think about. I now see the “Murakami” everyone raves about whereas I didn’t see it before. I still have questions about him as a writer, but this is an impressive, ambitious novel.

    To pick up where we left off… the meaning of the well. I see the inclusion of it as Murakami doing a twist on Abe Kobo’s The Woman in the Dunes. I haven’t read any Murakami criticism or reviews of this book, but I am almost certain that he has either read Abe’s book or seen the movie adaptation. It’s the same idea. A man falls into a pit (marriage) that he can’t ever escape; he may be stuck there forever. When Creta Kano removes the step ladder from the well, it made me recall a scene from the movie where the same thing happens.

    I haven’t seen the original Japanese for the novel yet, but “Noboru” means climb or ascend. The spelling is probably different but it looks like Murakami is using this “Noboru” as a representative, aspirational, successful figure with which to contrast Toru & Kumiko who don’t appear to be going anywhere; in fact, it looks like their marriage has fallen apart. Toru can’t climb out of “the well” in many respects of his life.

    Whatever may be in the light that Lieutenant Mamiya described when he was tortured in Mongolia Toru needs to see it for himself. So he tries to recreate the experience for himself by entering the well & risking entrapment down below forever. Of course it’s foolish to do this: There’s no way he can recreate the death, murder, & torture the soldiers experienced throughout Asia. But he does it anyway. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t reach the same enlightenment Mamiya reached, but he does get visited by the same spirits who have been joining him ever since the very opening paragraph of this novel. He can’t reach enlightenment, I feel, because he’s still trying to make sense of the world through these spirits who don’t give him the answers he needs because he still remains essentially confused about life.

    Somewhere in this middle third I had stopped seeing the Kanos, & the 16-year-old girl & all these strange visitors as real characters. The only two that are real for me are Toru & Kumiko, & perhaps some peripheral characters like the uncle. The rest are the just the necessary spirits Toru has to engage with in order to reach enlightenment.

    Come to think of it! I am just reminded of Akutagawa’s short story/Buddhist parable “kumo no ito”, or The Spider’s Web. There’s a ladder & a well & a way to climb out of hell in that story too!

    I have some strong opinions about the abortion theme, but I will save that for my own blog post, as I don’t wish to upset anyone here. It’s central to the story, & may be what spurred the novel from the opening paragraph.

    So! There’s plenty to think about with this novel. I just rattled off some of the bigger ideas that struck me, & I feel the above barely covers it. I’m looking forward to finishing this one & sorting it all out… And then maybe tackle a few more Murakami to see what else I’ve missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your comments are very interesting, as I knew they would be. I had not thought of comparing this book to The Woman In The Well, but I can see the idea of being trapped is similar. However, I see the well more as a conduit from a place of misunderstanding, or not knowing, to a transition of understanding, after all. To me, Toru goes into the well for long periods of time to think, to discover what is going on in his life and others’.

    Of course, the light that Lieutenant Mamiya sees is Christ to me. Not that Asians are necessarily Christians, I just associated that story with DanIel when he, and his two friends, were thrown into the fiery furnace. The king looks in and says, “Hey! Didn’t we throw three men in there? Why do I see four?” The fourth was Christ, enduring with them, helping them, and I think the same is true for Mamiya, but he can’t quite grasp it (although he says he’d give anything to do so).

    I, too, have strong feelings about abortion. We will discuss that later, and perhaps even privately. Suffice it to say, I believe life to be sacrosanct, and I do not call murder a woman’s health choice. That is why I say perhaps Toru is looking to find forgiveness for his wife.

    As to other Murakami greats, I have a few favorites, of course. My most loved of all his work is Kafka on the Shore, a book I’ve read several times (but would love to read again!) I also love 1Q84 and Killing Commendatore. I prefer his novels to his short stories because they contain more substance.

    Anyway, thanks for reading with me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s