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Norwegian Wood Paperback – September 12, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

In 1987, when Norwegian Wood was first published in Japan, it promptly sold more than 4 million copies and transformed Haruki Murakami into a pop-culture icon. The horrified author fled his native land for Europe and the United States, returning only in 1995, by which time the celebrity spotlight had found some fresher targets. And now he's finally authorized a translation for the English-speaking audience, turning to the estimable Jay Rubin, who did a fine job with his big-canvas production The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Readers of Murakami's later work will discover an affecting if atypical novel, and while the author himself has denied the book's autobiographical import--"If I had simply written the literal truth of my own life, the novel would have been no more than fifteen pages long"--it's hard not to read as at least a partial portrait of the artist as a young man.

Norwegian Wood is a simple coming-of-age tale, primarily set in 1969-70, when the author was attending university. The political upheavals and student strikes of the period form the novel's backdrop. But the focus here is the young Watanabe's love affairs, and the pain and pleasure and attendant losses of growing up. The collapse of a romance (and this is one among many!) leaves him in a metaphysical shambles:

I read Naoko's letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with the same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it.
This account of a young man's sentimental education sometimes reads like a cross between Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women. It is less complex and perhaps ultimately less satisfying than Murakami's other, more allegorical work. Still, Norwegian Wood captures the huge expectation of youth--and of this particular time in history--for the future and for the place of love in it. It is also a work saturated with sadness, an emotion that can sometimes cripple a novel but which here merely underscores its youthful poignancy. --Mark Thwaite

From Publishers Weekly

In a complete stylistic departure from his mysterious and surreal novels (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; A Wild Sheep Chase) that show the influences of Salinger, Fitzgerald and Tom Robbins, Murakami tells a bittersweet coming-of-age story, reminiscent of J.R. Salamanca's classic 1964 novel, LilithAthe tale of a young man's involvement with a schizophrenic girl. A successful, 37-year-old businessman, Toru Watanabe, hears a version of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood, and the music transports him back 18 years to his college days. His best friend, Kizuki, inexplicably commits suicide, after which Toru becomes first enamored, then involved with Kizuki's girlfriend, Naoko. But Naoko is a very troubled young woman; her brilliant older sister has also committed suicide, and though sweet and desperate for happiness, she often becomes untethered. She eventually enters a convalescent home for disturbed people, and when Toru visits her, he meets her roommate, an older musician named Reiko, who's had a long history of mental instability. The three become fast friends. Toru makes a commitment to Naoko, but back at college he encounters Midori, a vibrant, outgoing young woman. As he falls in love with her, Toru realizes he cannot continue his relationship with Naoko, whose sanity is fast deteriorating. Though the solution to his problem comes too easily, Murakami tells a subtle, charming, profound and very sexy story of young love bound for tragedy. Published in Japan in 1987, this novel proved a wild success there, selling four million copies. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (554 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By L. Rephann on April 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is the first book by Haruki Murakami I've read, and on the strength of this, I would certainly attempt his other novels. "Norwegian Wood" is a quick read, drawing the reader in closer and deeper as the characters, their lives, and their deaths intertwine.
Having just finished the book, I'm at a bit of a loss for what to say about it. It is about love, death, youth, friendship, and ultimately, how fragile and delicate humans are, and how much we seek protection from this fragility in the arms of others or in our own private prisons. Toru Watanabe, the protagonist, locks himself in a prison of solitude, which he eventually escapes, with difficulty, only through the death of a close friend/lover and the realization that he is basically alone in the world. This realization forces him to come to terms with his feelings for a woman who challenges his cold side while simultaneously acknowledging his softer side via her own need for companionship, understanding, and love.
There are many deaths in this book, although they take place somewhat at the outskirts of the other action. The deaths act as catalysts for characters to learn, grow, change, or in some cases, retreat, wither, and become isolated. It is this constant interplay between retreat and advancement, withering and growth, isolation and togetherness, which seems to be a theme of this novel, and a central struggle each and every one of its characters must face. In that respect, Murakami has hit on a central struggle for all humans: intimacy vs. independence.
It's Murakami's amazingly poetic writing, his evocative, sensual observations, and the way he renders characters so complex with the simplest of language and details that makes this novel so memorable.
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176 of 195 people found the following review helpful By Ken Miller on April 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
I had read and enjoyed Haruki Murakami's tetralogy (Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, A Wild Sheep Chase, and Dance Dance Dance), and I loved his Wind-Up Bird Chronicle novel, but I was ready for something new.
In reviews and on websites, I had read over and over about Norwegian Wood, the "straightforward" novel that was published years ago in Japan, which still was not for sale in the states, since there was not an authorized translation available. This novel sold a HUGE number of copies in Japan. I was wondering: I love those other novels by Murakami. Are they so demanding? Complicated? If Norwegian Wood is so much simpler than the other novels, will I even like Norwegian Wood?
The plot: It's the late 1960's. College student Toru falls in love with the girlfriend of his (dead) best friend. She eventually becomes ill (though not physically ill) and has to leave to live under special circumstances, far away from him. While she's gone, he meets Midori, a college student who obviously is interested in him. But he's holding out for his girlfriend Naoko. Never knowing if she will recover from her ailment and be able to rejoin him in society, he goes to classes, sells phonograph records at night, and spends some time with Midori. He visits Naoko a few times, gets to know her wacky roommate/friend/mentor Reiki, and eventually he has to decide between a life with Naoko (without Naoko?) or with Midori. Throw in a bizarre Geography-major roommate nicknamed "Storm Trooper," a scene where Midori (badly) sings folk songs to our Toru while they watch a neighborhood fire from the balcony above her parents' bookshop, and assorted other hilarious/bizarre characters and passages, and you've got vintage Haruki Murakami.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
How should I start. I first read this book 7 years ago in its Chinese translation. But after reading this newly published version it all came back to me. All the sad feelings and the helplessness. This book is just too wonderful it's beyond description. And I can't help falling into the roles in the story while listening to the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood". You have to get your hand on this book (preferably the Biritish versionto feel it for yourself. I agree with one of the reviews here this book do feel like J.D. Salinger "Catcher in the Rye". Murakami sort of admitted it himself by writing a line mentioning the book. But "Norwegian Wood" is so powerful in its own way bewteen life and dead; love and hate. This book is a lot more than its protracted images of a love story of a Tokyo college student, although it's more of a guy's romance. Its odd sex patterns and almost frequent suicides mark the authenticity of Japanese culture while strongly persevere the usual influence of American literature and culture in Murakami's works. Maybe it has something to do with Murakami being born in Kobe, a wide-open trading port where Western cultures were available in the early 1900s. Anyway, the reason I am writing this review (at 3:30 a.m.) is that I just can't fall asleep after reading it, even it's the second time in 7 years.
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200 of 235 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's not "Norwegian Wood" the story itself that I give 1 star to- it's the Jay Rubin translation. Over a decade ago I bought the Alfred Birnbaum translation, and I find Birnbaum to be a far superior translator to Rubin. Rubin's translation of certain sensual phrases from the Japanese turn into stale duds of sentences compared to Birnbaum's more heartfelt ones. Moreover, Rubin deletes words, sentences and paragraphs as he feels fit- Birnbaum does not make as vast edits as Rubin does. In this version of NW, Rubin writes that Murakami has approved this as the official translation. I'm sorry to say that although Murakami is my favorite author in the whole world, I have heard him lecture and his spoken English is remarkably terrible- he may know how to translate written English to Japanese really well, but he could use to learn about translating from his native language to English. I've rattled on long enough- but let it be said, Birnbaum's translation is far superior- and if you do not live in Japan, then go to your local Japanese bookstore in America like Kinokuniya or Asahiya and get it- leave this disgrace of a translation on the shelf.
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