Kumiko Okada is the absent wife of protagonist Toru Okada in Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”. Kumiko chooses early on in the novel to run away from Toru with the pretence of taking a lover. This drives Toru to begin a wild and obsessive search through an ever-changing labyrinth, sometimes reality and sometimes dream.
The real Kumiko becomes less and less present and more a misunderstood, hollow, archetypal woman, beginning to inhabit only ethereal and non-physical space such as dreams, phone-calls, emails and hallucinations. She starts to be replaced in dreams with other women wearing her clothing, slipping through reality and dream worlds,
sometimes herself, sometimes another woman. Each time Toru seems to grasp her, she ends up slipping through his fingers once again, transforming like water.
In one of the penultimate correspondences, Kumiko says to Toru via email:
“If there is any one thing that you can do for me, it would be to forget about my existence as quickly as possible. Take those years that we lived together and push them outside your memory as if they never existed. That, finally, is the best thing you can do for both of us. This is what I truly believe”
In this correspondence, the reader loses sight of Kumiko for the last time; however, she still remains in the mind’s eye.
The protagonist never gives her up, and one can imagine her still slipping through the waves of reality, further transforming,
withdrawing, becoming less and less real until she vanishes into thin air.
-Luke Nickel (2009)