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Norwegian Wood Paperback – September 12, 2000
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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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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. Another reviewer compared it to Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and while the content and themes are somewhat different, perhaps the lesson is that the elusive "comfort zone," finding it and staying in it, is a major concern of and struggle for most people. There is always something ready to knock us off or out of that balance.
The ending of this novel doesn't suggest that Watanabe has found that balance or lost it. It really says nothing about how Watanabe resolves the current dynamics in his life. And perhaps that "non-ending" is just another reflection of the "unbearable lightness of being," the strange place which we seem to inhabit only at times, when our expectations, needs, and actions all seem to magically work together at once. The normal state of affairs is that these things conspire to unbalance us, especially when we bring other people into the equation. "Norwegian Wood" expresses, in beautiful language, how the balance between people is so delicate, and how it sometimes takes a major catalyst, like death or loss, to jolt us into understanding our inter-connectedness.
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.
My favorite scene is one in which Midori takes Toru to visit her ill father in the hospital. He's so ill he can barely eat or speak, but Toru convinces Midori to enjoy a respite, and take a walk by herself out to a park in town. Toru is left alone with this bedridden stranger, in a situation that would seem forced, harsh, and impossible to enjoy, yet they make some very odd and touching inroads with each other. It's very unusual, and perfect in just the way that so many of Murakami's scenes seem to be.
The novel isn't as complex as Haruki's other work, and it's missing some of the magical realist / sci-fi / unexplainable elements that were so prevalent in Dance Dance Dance, Wild Sheep Chase, and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. However, this novel is just as enjoyable, and just as worthwhile. This novel has a sustained emotional depth that other works by Murakami only achieve in passages.
If you're a fan of modern literature at all, do yourself a favor. Read Norwegian Wood, and read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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