Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Author:

Haruki Murakami, born on January 12, 1949, is a popular and best-selling Japanese author both nationally and internationally. His works have been translated into 50 languages and sold millions of copies. Also, he has been graced with numerous awards. His literature is heavily influenced by western culture, literature, and music.

His work has been described as ‘easily accessible, yet profoundly complex’. His novels are surrealistic and melancholic, marked by a Kafkaesque rendition of the ‘recurrent themes of alienation and loneliness’ he weaves into his narratives.

Publication Year: 1987

Review:

Norwegian Wood begins with Toru Watanabe, a 37-year-old man traveling to Hamburg. After hearing the song ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Beatles, he is overcome with nostalgia and begins musing about his teenage years.

“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. The scenery was the last thing on my mind”.

At the age of 17, Kizuki, his best friend, decides to end his life leaving behind his best friend Toru and his girlfriend, Naoko, broken. Toru and Naoko bond after his death and Toru offers emotional support to Naoko and ends up falling in love with her in the process.

But the death of Kizuki, whom Naoko loved ever since they were kids, sends her life in a downward spiral as she tries to come to terms with the incident. Her breakdown leads to her admission in a sanatorium. 

Toru joins the University while keeping in touch with Naoko. He visits her occasionally, holding out hope for her recovery in hopes of starting a relationship with her. During his visit, he meets a musician Reiko and the three of them bond.

Meanwhile, as life gets tough to deal with, Toru isolates himself from the world. He ends up meeting Midori, a fierce, independent and carefree girl. He is drawn to her feisty personality and ends up falling in love with her. 

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”. 

Toru is a sweet, serious and caring guy who loves reading and prefers solitude. He struggles with his feelings for Naoko while she struggles to deal with the death of Kizuki. Toru is torn between the two girls in his life. He tries his best to help Naoko get better while she keeps slipping away.

Naoko represents the dark side, the hopelessness, the pain while Midori exhibits light; she’s a warm and soothing presence in the despairing life of Toru. His complex relationship with both the girls is depicted beautifully.

The writing was simply enchanting. The narration was very intimate and vivid. It drew me in right from the start and made me feel all sorts of emotions that the protagonist was going through. This story made me very nostalgic about my teenage years when every emotion felt heightened and carried a lot of weight.

The author used the instances from his own life as a student which gives it an autobiographical feel which wasn’t his intention. The story occurs in the backdrop of the 1960s student movements in Japan and we get a glimpse of Japan from the past.

It’s not just a love story, though there are references to love throughout the novel. It’s a coming of age story with themes such as life and death, communication, isolation, mental illness, politics.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.” 

I loved all the characters in the novel. They were realistic and perfectly flawed which made me relate to them. They had their own problems to deal with and their journey which made me fall in love with them. I found Midori, Storm Trooper, Nagasawa and Reiko especially interesting.

“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives”.

There are so many beautiful lines in this book that moved me while reading. Also, there are a few graphic adult scenes; something you should know if you’re not comfortable with it. I felt kind of weird about the last scene but it didn’t change my overall opinion about the story. 

Before reading the book, I listened to the ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Beatles. It’s a beautiful and melodious song. So, every time I picked up this book, the song would play in the back of my mind which enhanced the reading experience for me.

I enjoyed this book immensely and this is easily one of the best books I read this year. I recommend it to anyone who likes a nice coming-of-age story.

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I'm an introvert, agnostic-atheist, insatiable reader, fitness enthusiast, daydreamer, music-lover, cat-adorer, eternal optimist with a touch of cynicism, curious soul, annoying preacher, OCD for cleanliness with a teeny affinity for messiness!

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