Several years ago Amazon suggested that I buy a book called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I obediently ordered it. Put it on the shelf, for years. Somewhere else along the way, Amazon suggested that I buy a book called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. So I bought a duplicate copy, and put it on a different shelf.
After getting married, I moved all my stuff into a new home. I sorted through my possessions, placing them alphabetically around the rooms, and discovered my duplicitousness. For years, standing side-by-side, my two copies of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle beckoned me. But I was too busy.
Eventually the shame of wastefulness, and boredom and curiosity, forced me to read one of the books.
It’s full of stories, with lots of foreshadowing, and lots of other stuff. It asks you to try to put the pieces together. Some pieces don’t fit the way you want them to. And then it all comes together and…it works. It was 600 pages of pretty awesome.
The author is Japanese. He’s supposed to be pretty Westernly inclined. I wish that I were well-read enough to know. Previously the most Japanesie novel I’d ever read was Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which is obviously a US book based on a certain style of Japanese novel. Which is kind of cool because everything is a direct reflection of everything else. So that sort of prepared me.
In If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, there’s a chapter from a Japanese book. It involves a groom accidentally having sex with his mother-in-law. As if that were a likely possibility. But in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle something similar happens sort of. So is that a trope of Japanese novels, or as a Westernly-influenced person, was he paying homage to Italo Calvino? I don’t know. Can you advise me?
I could try to tell you what it’s about, but it wouldn’t end up giving you the right idea. It’s a bit of that realistic magic stuff that was coming out of Latin America a few decades ago. And it’s historical. I never realized how ignorant I was of Japan before WWII. They were dealing with the Soviets before we were! Talk about a Cold War. But that’s not really what it’s about.
Supposedly the English translation is missing a bit from the last third of the original book. I’m figuring that the translator wasn’t trying to re-translate Western influences back into English, but what do I know?
I only read one of my copies of the books. I’m not certain that the other one contains all the same stories. I’ll check and let you know.
Soon after, I picked up another book from off my shelf. It was Hidden Camera by Zoran Zivkovic. And it’s got some magical not-quite-realism going on too. But the two books feel and read completely differently.
They’re both 1st person narratives. But the Japanese book digresses into several other narrators. They all share a similar style, but the point of views change enough that you actually feel like you’re in different people’s heads
In the Serbian book there is only one narrator. And he’s incessant like a train. Almost obnoxious. The writing style, if not the rest of it, seriously resembles Kafka. But nobody wants to use that phrase any more.
I picked the book from a list of novels with untrustworthy narrators. In this case, it’s not so much that the narrator is lying (as in for instance Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff where the narrator is not willing to look at her own culpability) as that he’s just prejudiced against the truth.
And there’s a lot of symbolism. And I can only guess at any of its meanings. But that just happens to work really fine. I find significant meaning in these symbols that I can’t claim to actually understand, and it works for me.
In the Japanese novel, I struggled to make sense of it, but it seemed like I would definitely find the right answer. In the Serbian one, I wasn’t so sure along the way. But by the ending it all paid off.
Two completely different novels using the same tools in totally different ways, to unique effect for each. Not at all alike while you’re experiencing them. But in hindsight, they’re exactly the same.
Or, at least, that’s what I brought to the table.