I've revisited Murakami a few times since then. In 2005, Kafka on the Shore, following the intersecting trajectories of a teenager saddled with knowledge of his own destiny and an old man with the curious ability to converse with cats, further endeared me to Murakami's magical realism, an element that I found lacking when I cracked one of Murakami's earlier novels, Norwegian Wood.
In 2011, with the impending English translation release of 1Q84, I finally picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, considered by some to be Murakami's magnum opus.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the story of Toru Okada, an unremarkable 30-year-old who in a short span of time loses his cat, his job, and his wife. As one might expect in a Murakami novel, things quickly go from bad to weird for Toru, and he is soon visited by a number of woman - and men, but mostly young, attractive women - with more than a hint of the occult about them.
Add to the parade of bizarre visitations an aging veteran of the second Sino-Japanese War who plies Toru with stories of violent campaigns in Manchuria, stories which, combined with Malta Kano's cryptic advice - "when it is time to wait, you must wait," inform Toru's decision to isolate himself at the bottom of the cursed Miyawaki well. There, in a dreamlike state, Toru somehow passes through the stone wall of the well and into an ethereal hotel room where the sultry telephone woman lies in wait for him.
Despite its faults, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is an intriguing ride and a must-read for Murakami fans - themes of the ultimate unknowability of another person and the duality of human existence play against scenes depicting the violence of Japan's wartime past, which, though gruesome, comprises some of the best writing in the novel. It's hard to recommnend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle outright as it is Murakami's longest to-date and unevenly compelling at times. Newcomers might be better advised to dip their toes in the books mentioned above to gauge their own inclinations towards the author's unique blend of detective fiction, pop culture, and fantastic surrealism.