Monday, March 26, 2007

Haruki Murakami and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I truly believe that fiction sometimes describes reality better than non-fiction. Good fiction has the potential to boil down things to its essence, describe the core of human relationships, and use exaggeration to make us understand what needs to be understood. Take Dashiell Hammet for example, or Patricia Highsmith, two authors which have clearly shown us that the evil is not in the individuals, it is in the field - everybody is guilty. Or, take a couple of my favourite authors from the Indian subcontinent, such as Tariq Ali or Vikram Seth, who teach us about the beauty of human bonds and the way people can create meaning from relating to each other and to each other's history. Take Michael Crichton, who succeeds in explaining to us the potential dangers of modern technologies, even if critics may say that what he describes has nothing in common with reality. I believe it has, at least on a meta level.

If there is one author who gives metaphorical descriptions of the embedded principles of change, it is clearly Haruki Murakami, the great Japanese novelist of the last twenty years and my favourite author since long. After I had completed all his novels in German, I now started to read them for a second time, now in the great English translation of Jay Rubin. Just finished what I believe is his greatest book, worth the nobel prize, which is "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle". I must warn you. This book contains the description of some extremely brutal war atrocities that might not be suitable for sensitive souls, and it contains also what you might call adults' stuff. You might read a softer book such as "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World", or "A Wild Sheep Chase", or his best-seller "Norwegian Wood" (though the adults' stuff is in them as well). But "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" has all three major principles of Change Management in it, that is what it makes it so unique:

The Map is Not the Territory (Constructionist Principle). Whatever we think is real might be just trick that our brain pays with us. Toru Okada, the central figure of the novel first looses his cat, than his wife Kumiko, and many strange people walk into his life like the two sisters Malta and Creta Kano who seem to possess super-natural powers. Things that don't make sense at first, like for example old stories from the Japanese-Mandchurian battlefield suddenly provide clues for the riddle Okada has to solve to find his wife. To understand what is going on and to interpret small signs that are given to us, we need to search for more information and try to suspend our assumptions. It takes us more than 600 pages to arrive at that point.

The Behaviour of Complex Systems Cannot Be Described in Linear Terms (Systems Principle). Many things are interconnected in Okada's world, but the complexity of life is so high that no prediction can be made about what will happen next. His firstly chosen then forced stay at the bottom of a dry well for some days has several consequences for Toru Okada and the world around him: In his lucid dreams (or just in another reality?) he is able to trace signs of his wife and starts to understand that his brother-in-law who is running for office might have a dark secret to hide that is connected to the fate of Toru's and Kumiko's marriage. He returns from the well with an ominous mark on his cheek, which turns out to be his enabler to move ahead.

The Observer Determines which Reality Comes to Light (Quantum Principle). There are a couple of parallel worlds existing in Murakami's book. Although somebody might call them reality and dream worlds respectively, in the cause of the book it becomes clear that this is not the right description. The different worlds influence each other in unpredictable ways but it is clear that they are closely interconnected. Okada realizes that only if he can connect these different worlds, there is a chance for him to win his wife back. The connections he makes between these worlds become his, and our reality.

So, if you believe you can stand the hard, kind of Pulp Fiction stuff, and if you want to understand change in another language than those of management textbooks, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle would be worth reading.


  1. Hi Holger,
    I'm reading Murakami's The wind-up bird chronicle and i believe it is a masterpiece. I was searching the internet for some information about the themes in the book. I think your analogy of the story and change is very interesting, you just gave me a lot to think about it. I was wondering if you know how Murakami sees memory in all his novels? I am also a big fan of Murakami.
    Nice reading your blog.

  2. Great review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I just finished today, and my head is still spinning, just trying to make sense of it all. It's such a wonderfully complex and meaningful book. And I'm entranced by Murakami's style.

    I wrote a brief review on my blog: