Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Contemporary, Japanese Literature ; (317 pgs)
Published by Atlas
"Norwegian Wood" (ノルウェイの森, Noruwei no Mori) is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. The story's protagonist and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a college student living in Tokyo. Through Toru's reminiscences we see him develop relationships with two very different women — the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko, and the outgoing, lively Midori.
The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, a time when Japanese students, like those of many other nations, were protesting against the established order. While it serves as the backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold, Murakami (through the eyes of Toru and Midori) portrays the student movement as largely weak-willed and hypocritical."Norwegian Wood" was hugely popular with Japanese youth and made Murakami somewhat of a superstar in his native country. (GoodReads)
This book deals with so many important themes of life. The transcendence of the spirit and the rebuilding of our own selves are such poignant and present themes. Death is strongly covered, beginning with the very first few pages of the book. Suicide, to be more specific, is what is first encountered as you enter Murakami's world of pain and sorrow, but also patience, love, and hope. The book tries to highlight the ability to reminisce over the good in, possibly, some of our most difficult moments in life. Sometimes through humor, sometimes through sexual encounters, and sometimes by escaping with a ludicrous friend who just wants to get ahead in life because he gets a thrill through the 'game.' I should emphasize, there is a ubiquitous nature of sexuality that seems to suggest is at the 'crux of all human engagement in life.'
When I first began reading this novel, I was blown away. I have not yet experienced Murakami's world of writing until now. He is absolute genius. He stands in a category all of his own. His writing is simple, yet so heart-felt, so honest, so true. It cuts through you right to the heart, right to your spirit, right to your soul. I felt sad. I felt happy. I laughed. I went through all kinds of colorful emotions while reading this novel. I felt the defeat, and I also felt the hope, and even the fight that we all go through to better our individual selves. I experienced everything in the book as though I was reliving some of my own struggles and challenges through those exact emotions that Naoko, Watanabe, and Midori feel through their lives. This is a story about such a far away place, and yet you'll feel so close to this book.
The book begins with all the things he (Watanabe) has lost in the course of his life. "Times gone forever, friends who have died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again," he says. The book concludes with possible opportunity, a new beginning, or an especially long over-due addition to his life. Quite the rollercoaster, all the while enjoying the little things that keeps us grounded, smiling and laughing, and looking forward to the tomorrow.
Murakami has the ability to totally capture his characters. The whole time I read about the characters, one by one, I felt as though Murakami had learned about them thoroughly, knowing all their intricacies and subtleties, then placed himself in their shoes, and from that perspective told their stories as they would themselves. They are so well captured and developed. They are real people with real stories with real human spirits. The characters are diverse, unique, and genuine. They also carry a level of universalism that I have not yet read in characters up to now. To think that this all takes place in Japan boggles my mind. It felt I was reading about people I have knew or know. Naoko, Toru, Midori, and Reiko truly moved me, all in their special and unique mannerism.
There is so much to write about this book. It's ultimately one of my most prized books, now. It's just one of those novels that I will come back to frequently. It leaves a mark on you. It is definitely bittersweet that I have finished this novel. I believe I never really wanted it to end. I wish I could know how the story continues.
There are a lot of references to really great books in this novel. Something to keep in mind while reading this book. It will make you crave to read amazing books. Too many to sift through and list them. I do remember, however, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, and Einstein being mentioned. But there are several more others.
Murakami really gives us a perspective on the balance of life and death. The universe likes to balance things out. We all pay our dues. All these themes are part of a larger context in this book. Perhaps, this is one of the most mysterious elements to the book, never knowing how life and death are really linked to our purpose on earth. We speculate. We have theories. Some of us even have our convictions. But what is it that drives young individuals to their own demise, to suicide? Why? This book may help you see some of the details that transpire in the lives of the four people who decide to end their own lives, but it's still a mystery what really leads them there, exactly. We can speculate, and entertain several ideas, but it leaves a lot for questioning. I absolutely admire Murakami for tackling such concept with such interwoven details, and succeeding so effortlessly.
There are just so many things to talk about with this book.... I could go on forever.
QUOTES FROM NORWEGIAN WOOD:
"Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn't give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful gil walking next to me. I was thinkin about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind."
"I can never say what I want to say," continued Naoko. "It's been like this for a while now. I try to say something, but all I get are the wrong words-the wrong words or the exact opposite words from what I mean. I try to correct myself, and that only makes it worse. I lose track of what I was trying to say to being with. It's like I'm split in two and playing tag with myself. One half is chasing the other around this big, fat post. The other me has the right words, but this me can't catch her."
"we are in here not to correct the deformation but to accustom ourselves to it: that one of our problems was our inability to recognize and accept our own deformities. Just as each person has certain idiosyncracies in the way he or she walks, people have idiosyncracies in the way they think and feel and see things, and though you might want to correct them, it doesn't happen overnight, and if you try to force the issue in one case, something else might go funny."
"I have always loved Naoko, and I still love her. But there is a decisive finality to what exists between Midori and me. It has an irrestible power that is bound to sweep me into the future. What I feel for Naoko is a tremendously quiet and gentle and transparent love, but what I feel for Midori is wholly different emotion. It stands and walks on its own, living and breathing and throbbing and shaking me to the roots of my being."