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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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Top Customer Reviews
Murakami composes prose with the deceptively simple, but flowing elegance of a master songwriter. (A note of praise must be given to Murakami’s English translator, Jay Rubin.) Murakami has captured the era with the accuracy of one who lived through it—something he did. The dialogue has all the deftness of Hemingway’s. The characters are complex, breathing beings that transcend the written page. Most importantly, Murakami unwinds the tale in a manner that makes it impossible to stop reading.
At times laugh out loud funny, at times heart wrenching, at times erotic (though never sleazy), Norwegian Wood is the author at his best. My only regret—and it was a big one—was that the story ended and I could no longer spend time in this captivating world.
Not all of us have experienced the darker side of emotional behavior when loss, leads to depression, which can lead to suicidal gestures, and which might ultimately lead to a terminal act. Here is a spoiler. There are four suicides in this book--one by carbon monoxide asphyxiation, one through wrist laceration, and two by hanging. There are other deaths described as well. But this is not a morbid book. On the contrary Murakami goes to great measure to capture the beauty of life both in natural and physical state and in its more mystical shape of brotherly love and of course erotic love. He captures the beauty of human friendship and what happens when selfishness overrules better judgment, but ultimately that selflessness can prevail, in some cases it can save.
Murakami `s philosophy, that "...death exists as a part of life", permeates this book, but also that lives and experiences, even those that have been lost can continue to live. "Norwegian Wood", the Beatle's song not the novel, evokes the memories of lives and loves worth remembering for the characters in this novel. We all have similar songs that remind us of those other experiences we have long since forgotten, good and bad. Murakami is simply reminding us that not only is it OK to remember, it is a fundamental requirement of the well lived and well considered life.
The narrator and central character of Norwegian Wood, Toru Watanabe is a relatively impecunious collage freshman in a lessor Japanese collage. He is socially withdrawn and emotionally uncertain. He was the last person to see his very close childhood friend before the friend committed suicide and through him he has a very close feeling for his late friend’s girlfriend Naoko. They are both survivors of the suicide and both having to understand who they are absent this person who had been their common center.
Much of this 400 page novel is about Watananbe trying to understand who he is and how he best fits into the lager world after leaving home. This world is the Japan of the 1960’s where student can take over the campus and politics as much as money influence your social standing. He is has a powerful bond with Naoko and will become deeply involved with a stronger, elusive female college classmate Midori. Watanabe is alternately a good person, instantly able to, for example, identify with and bond with Midori’s dying father. He is just as capable of using his socially adept and well healed collage chum to cruise the bars to pick up and sleep with random faceless women. He does not like any of his male classmates and he has a particular distaste for the man he uses for a variety of favors.
Most of Norwegian Wood is about how Wanatabe alternately indulges and pushes himself while allowing events and people to flow around him. He is capable of being very gentle and understanding. Or he is being passive and accepting. One expects that he would make a very good psychotherapist, or at least a counselor of some type. For all this the word I kept associating with him was ‘Passive”.
I have to agree with other reviewers who feel this book has been padded out. It may be that in the original, many of the overly detailed descriptive passages are lyrical, but too often I found them a needless demand on my time. Murakami can set a mood and bring you into people’s minds but at this point he is not always sure why he brought you there.
Norwegian Wood s early Murakami. It is not his best. He will keep many themes and backgrounds in later works. I liked this book, even if at times, I wanted Watanabe to take a stand, to take charge and for the writer to speed things up.