- Paperback: 298 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Translated from Japanese edition (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: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 932 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,501 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Norwegian Wood Paperback – September 12, 2000
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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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3.5 really. I always confuse this Haruki Murakami with Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. The very pastoral feeling to a lot of it, the woods, the walking, the solitary Toru Watanabe and his broken heart... I realize the stories are dissimilar, but this is not your average Murakami fare. It was one of his earlier works, and while nothing is wrong with it in particular, it's just so different from everything else I've read from him that it really is not the stuff one imagines when reading Murakami. I've seen it suggested so many times as an introduction to Murakami's work, but I doubt you could know if you'd like much else after reading this because it is so different (with the exception of South of the Border,West of the Sun -- another early work.)
Putting that aside, I wondered what was making all of these tragic events happen. I sort of hoped for magic, which we do get a hint of at the very end. All of the characters are unmoored - floating around in the world without a tether. The Beatles song from which it takes the title is perfectly suited. "I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me." And the jangly guitars along with the beat belie the sad story the lyrics tell. That's how this book feels. Surrounded by sex and funny characters/scenes, tragedy takes over everyone, characters are alone - wandering in the wilderness, as it were, and while I wouldn't suggest this book could tell anyone if they'd like any other Murakami novel, I think it's well worth a read. It stayed with me for a long time, in detail.
(I've never seen the movie - or for that matter, any of the movies made from his books - anyone have thoughts on this one?)
Norwegian Wood is a masterpiece of the inner mind and will bring you back to places and feelings that you thought only you had ever experienced. Joy, pain, sorrow, loss, love, and death are intertwined with life and those of us who choose to go on living and feeling.
A must read for anyone still living.
It seems as though Hajime was right when he said that, “what’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same old incomplete person,” and right now I feel the stab of my own incompleteness nearly as acutely as when that “something inside me was [first] severed, and disappeared. Silently. Forever.” For a book overflowing with decelerations of love and some of the most perfectly over-the-top admissions of the power of desire… the need to yearn… the want to need… to seek “the sense of being tossed about by some raging, savage force, in the midst of which lay something absolutely crucial,” or to “want to be bowled over by something special,” it has done a surprisingly good job of crushing a heart that has been continually struggling to keep beating in the face of its own ineffectuality.
This novel drips with foreboding foreshadowing; I am not surprised by the outcome, but Murakami was able to keep me desperately hanging on to a misplaced sense of hope. I wanted this novel to surprise me as much as I hope to be surprised by life. I’ve been able to extricate pieces of that hope from most of what I have encountered lately… extricate them and hold them as some kind of “vague dream” or a “burning unfulfilled desire.” This was, however, a vicious slap of the reality in which I feel most people are likely to find themselves in the end. It was a resounding pronouncement that this “vague dream” is simply “the kind of dream people have only when they’re seventeen,” and an acknowledgment that the youthful exuberance that gives rise to such sentiment is destined to decay and be relegated to the status of immature naivety.
This is the first Murakami book I have read. It was a chance encounter… I stumbled into this as much as Hajime stumbled into his own “accidental family.” “If it hadn’t rained then, if [he] had taken an umbrella, [he] never would have met her,” and if I had clicked a different link or at a different time, I wouldn’t be here trying to claw my way through a frustratingly thorough deconstruction of the story I’ve been so carefully trying to craft for myself. Murakami is an extremely talented writer; this was a very powerful story from which I absolutely could not tear myself until the very last page. A last page that left me desperate for something more. Something hopeful. But I, instead, am left with a sense of defeated acceptance. He weaves a difficult tale vacillating between the search to “discover… something special that existed just for me,” the simple acceptance that, “I don’t want to be lonely ever again,” and finally the realization that, “no one will weave dreams for me – it is my turn to weave dreams for others. Such dreams may have no power, but if my life is to have any meaning at all, that is what I have to do.”
Hajime is no obvious protagonist, and the reader is continually challenged to choose between “becoming someone new and correcting the errors of my past” and hoping that a truth already exists in a place “where I was loved and protected. And where I could love and protect others – my wife and children – back.” I fervently believe that, “you love who you love,” and that there’s “not much anyone can do about it,” and so I also want to believe that people do not succumb to that very real fear of being alone only to end up in a situation in which they are, “at least not unhappy and not lonely.” The question to, “Are you happy?” should be a wholehearted, “Yes!” In essence this was a story of a quest for that “yes,” and I think it painted a very real picture of the trials experienced in the midst of that journey and the confusion we face in determining what our own individual “yes” should be.
The melancholia this story instilled in me stems from the fact that it paints such a bleak and absurdist picture of this search. If Hajime wasn’t the hero, it certainly wasn’t Shimamoto, and Yukiko was, for the majority of the story, simply incidental, so it fell (for me) on the shoulders of Love itself to bear the weight of the Sisyphusian boulder this journey became. Murakami wanted me to believe in Love, its eternal nature (“Nothing can change it. Special feelings like that should never, ever be taken away.”), its undeniability (“Maybe, but I did meet you. And we can’t undo that… I don’t care where we end up; I just know I want to go there with you.”), and its power to leave us empty. (“I didn’t feel like I was in my own body; my body was just a lonely, temporary container I happened to be borrowing.”) Yet it was the importance of remembering the transient nature of all things that got lost amid the assertions of the immutable nature of Love. The author again (“Some things just vanish, like they were cut away. Others fade slowly into the mist.”) and again (“Whatever has form can disappear in an instant.”) put this notion on display and despite the fact that, “certain feelings stay with us forever,” we, like all things, must also change. Not, as I’m afraid this leads me to believe, to simply accept the lack of something for which we yearn, but also to allow ourselves to see it in places we’d never have believed it existed.
It was up to Hajime to, “find a new place, grab hold of a new life, a new personality” to make this story work. Despite the past and the connection shared between Hajime and Shimamoto I could never bring myself to truly want to see that love realized in a way that would destroy the life he had chosen to create with Yukiko… Yukiko who, in the face of her own father’s tacit acceptance of Hajime’s expected infidelity, (is this cultural?) continued to stand by her husband no matter how hard the rain fell. Nor did I want to see Hajime fall back into his relationship with Yukiko in a sort of de facto existence. Someone, no matter the outcome, was going to be destroyed. I wanted to see a true Love blossom at the end yet the final result felt like a simple admission that the “real” Love Hajime used to know with Shimamoto could not be recaptured in his adult life. The slight glimmer of hope we are given at the very end feels like a hope in acceptance rather than a hope for any kind of true Love. That is just not the hope that I want to have; I would rather continue staring at the “rain falling on the sea” with no hand resting lightly on my shoulder than live with “all strength drained from my body, as if someone had snuck up behind me and silently pulled the plug.” There are, perhaps, “lots of different ways to die,” and it may be true that, “in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference,” but there are surely not “lots of different ways to live.” There is one way – I don’t think I can accept that chasing boulders down a hill is truly living.
I loved that this book had the effect that it did. Especially in that it made me work hard to find something I wanted to take away from it. I will, without question, return to this author in the future – an experience I await with great anticipation.