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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood (original 1987; edition 2000)

by Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (Translator)

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10,716230261 (3.99)4 / 381
Brief Description: At the start of the book, we meet Toru the businessman on an airplane. As he is getting ready to deplane, he hears the Beatle’s song, Norwegian Wood, and it transports him back to the past—to the late 1960s when Toru was a quiet and serious college student who kept mostly to himself. However, a chance encounter with a girl from his hometown, Naoko, leads to a strange and unclassifiable relationship. The two are bound together by the suicide of a mutual friend years before, whose death continues to haunt their lives. Although Toru is doing his best to adapt and fit in with the world, Naoko struggles and eventually seeks help at an asylum. Toru, who finds himself bound to Naoko in ways he doesn’t fully understand, is confused when he also finds himself drawn to a sexually liberated and outspoken fellow student, Midori. As Toru attempts to balance his commitment to Naoko and his attraction to Midori, he finds that he can only be free when (as the song says) “This bird has flown.”

My Thoughts: OK … I’ll be upfront about why this book didn’t work for me as much as it could have or I wanted it to. The main problem is that I was super-excited to try one of Murakami’s fiction books and was prepared and pumped up for weirdness and alternate universes and talking animals and, unknowingly, managed to pick the one fairly straightforward book that Murakami wrote. (I only found this out afterwards. If only I’d read the blurb that said this book was “a complete stylistic departure” from his mysterious and surreal novels!) So, I was hoping for surrealism and found, instead, realism. Not to say this was a bad book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for. (Apparently, I should have chosen The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles or A Wild Sheep Chase instead.) The writing is graceful and fluid, and the story was accessible. Although tinged with melancholy and surprisingly graphic sex scenes/talk, Norwegian Wood ended up being a memorable and haunting coming of age story. It also evokes the strangeness and melancholy of the titular song. ( )
  Jenners26 | May 11, 2012 |
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Its always a little sad for me when I don't finish a book. Just didn't care about these kids at all. At all. It's a shame, I think I may have just chosen the wrong Murakami book to start with, and now it will likely be a long time if ever that I read something else by him which may be a big miss on my part. Still, I couldn't have been more bored with this book. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Apr 15, 2016 |
I just finally found this title after forgetting everything about it, plot, author, title, everything except some little bits here and there. After finally finding it, though I wasn’t sure at first, I read it again after more than 10 years. Unexpectedly, I was really moved by it, more than anything I’ve read in a long time, and I’m pretty sure more than when I read it the first time. So I thought I would attempt to explore the message of Norwegian Wood by analyzing the novel to some degree. This is more of an analysis from a very personal viewpoint and is definitely not a review, so beware if you haven’t already read the book.

Firstly, what is Norwegian Wood about? It is not an autobiography, you realize that at some point, and the author has made that clear. But even if he didn't, and even if it were, it is not about all the vast experiences of a person, but rather a certain phase of life specifically, or a very specific theme. But at the same time it is broader than just death, which it clearly revolves around, the one most pivotal feature in the story.

So what kind of life revolves around death? What does experiencing death do to a young man who is just beginning to discover himself, who is going through the turmoil of changes most adolescents go through when reaching adulthood, the decisions, twists and turns that you either choose to make or are chosen for you? That is, though it may seem like it, not the question Murakami is asking.

Though the question is very much related, it’s somewhat difficult to notice. And I think that's because of it being such a part of life. Namely, the cycle of aggression and reaction that is part of love and relationships in general, and part of successfully making one’s way through this life. What am I talking about? I don't mean aggression like some kind of violence, or something harmful even, necessarily, but there is always (if you think about it, and if you contemplate the relationships as portrayed in the book which puts a magnifying glass to this) one side of each relationship which is at any given time playing the part of the aggressor. This can be done passively, subtely (though having nothing to do with being malicious - that is a different thing altogether) or more openly, and there are shades of grey in between to no end. Nagasawa is a complete aggressor, he has no passive side to him almost at all, though conceding to at least make up with Hatsumi when she can't take it anymore. Toru and Mildori, on the other hand, are more representative of a normal, functioning relationship, but if you look at it closely, Mildori is the aggressor. The love which Murakami paints in his novel is made with the colors of Mildori as they interact with the canvas that is Toru. Not 100% the recipient, but always, he is on the receiving end more than the giving. In Hatsumi’s case she has no reason to not interact with the world normally as the rest do, as far as we know, but is simply the victim of the raging conquest of her person that Nagasawa carries out. She receives more than she can bear and never recovers, though not for any fault or shortcoming of her own. In this regard – the latter point – she is somewhat unique amongst the other characters.

It is this receiving and giving, the perpetual passive aggressive cycle where the dysfunction lies, the dysfunction that all of the characters in the book are dealing with, some learning how to "fix" themselves and adapting, others not. Reiko was originally a victim by being nothing more than a recipient, she didn't express herself except through the piano, and not for herself, not for the love of it alone but always with the pressure of becoming the pianist she was supposed to. That unbearable pressure is what broke her in the first place, and the wound was reopened again when she was victimized by her female student, who caught her completely unaware with her coup d'etat, after her already traumatizing attack on her. While her story is the most dramatic, she is able to make a recovery, and her victory over herself or over her circumstances is the only one we are made sure of.

More complicated is the case of Kizuki and Naoko. We learn little about Kizuki, but can infer that he had a problem interacting with the world, since Naoko describes them as having no other link to the world besides Toru. His ultimate failure to reconcile his problems remains unexplained, and in a way, it is not the subject of the story at all, more of a historical landmark in the current setting. Somehow it happened; we can only imagine exactly what it was and how it ended in his suicide, but that singular dependence on him was more than Naoko could stand to lose. In their case, however, they were perfectly matched, neither being an aggressor more than the other, their relationship a very "siamese" one, very cerebral. This in itself created a strange dependence on each other which could never be replaced, and an alienation from the rest of the world that could never be removed.

That alienation from the world is another aspect to the theme of love and relationships that Murakami highlights several times. Giving and taking brings one to life, and makes one "part of the scene," which, when unable to do so, or unable to do so correctly, results in alienation, in emptiness. Not a character in the book is completely saved from this, from Stormtrooper to Nagasawa, who are at opposite extremes of every kind. How to learn to interact, to give and take, the subtleties of love, the choices that must be made, the pitfalls that must be avoided... so as to succeed in this game that is life, that is the question attempted to be answered, or at least pondered out loud by the rich tapestry of interactions that Murakami has woven.
( )
  AZG1001 | Mar 31, 2016 |
There's something about Murakami's writing that feels so natural, despite often having fantastical elements kneaded into the dough. As the translator noted, this might seem like an ordinary love story - but it's more than that. Love, death, mental illness, alcohol, sex, the passing of time, it's intricately woven into a story which feels more like experiencing these feelings and meetings rather than reading about it as an outsider. I felt hopeless, as our main lead does, about life, university, people, society, love. I felt warmth and a certain calm as he spent time in Kyoto with Naoko and Reiko in such a lovely place where time seemed to stand still. I was so involved in their world, in the world of the book, that I forgot about reality for short bits of time.

I think I've probably never read a book where so many people die. It might also be the first time I feel I have gotten to know so many characters on a deeper level, many of whom I liked.
I feel it's worthy of five stars, but I can't say it effected me as deeply as I know it has others. For instance, as I remember it, I liked Kafka on the shore better. Still, I appreciate it for what it is and still feel it's rather spectacular writing. ( )
  zombiehero | Mar 25, 2016 |
Really different than any of the other Murakami's I've read. Not my favorite of his but still a good read and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Full review will follow on the blog first then on here. ( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami

Looking back on his students years in the late 1960's the narrator Watanbe tells his readers about how his life was divided between his love for 2 flawed girls.

Set amidst student uprisings, the pursuit of casual sex and the peace movement this is a story about growing up and discovering yourself.

Having just read The Catcher in the Rye I can see several places where this has influenced the story and indeed Watanbe refers to it a couple of times.

Normally I love Murakami's writing but for me this was missing the magic I found in his other stories (The Wind up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore it was also a bit too heavy on the details of sex between the characters.
( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
Ah Murakami, with your slightly surreal world, and your allegorical characters, and the random sex. I wasn't sure about this book at first, as Toru Watanabe reminisced, flashing back to his coming of age story. I felt the same disconnect I feel reading The Catcher in the Rye. But the meandering story became more compelling, as Toru deals with his increasingly disorganised life, and confronts difficult choices. Lots of references to western culture, and set against the student unrest of the late 60s. In the end it's a beautiful, thoughtful story. ( )
  evilmoose | Dec 14, 2015 |
4.5 out of 5, really. There is a part of me that resists giving this book full marks - but it is the same part of me that might resist diving fully into a relationship. There are some flaws here, but the flaws only serve to make the work more beautiful. At the same time, some of that beauty and those flaws leave the reader feeling open and longing for more. Not more in the sense of "you didn't give me enough" but rather "I want something else." Not unlike in a relationship, I suppose. And just like many good relationships, it has changed how I hear a certain song - but then, that song has always haunted me. Hasn't it you?

More at RB: http://ragingbiblioholism.com/2014/01/05/norwegian-wood/ ( )
  drewsof | Sep 30, 2015 |
More than storytelling, Murakami tells places, time, sound, smell, taste, and touch. ( )
  kg988 | Aug 26, 2015 |
Is a pretty good book. You read it with pleasure and [a:Haruki Murakami|3354|Haruki Murakami|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1350230608p2/3354.jpg]knows how to put you inside the book in no time. Sometimes I struggle to get into the book but here I had no problem. I was reading almost 100 pages in one sit without even notice. The book in other languages is call "Norwegian Wood" in spanish is Tokio Blues, but once that you start to read it you realice is a great translation. Watanabe (the main character of the story) is narrating his time as a student in Tokyo and is a sad story so all his memories produce the perfect atmosphere of a blues. I like many of the characters and by the end Murakami manage to create a great story surrender by nostalgia and sadness. Is a great reading that take us to the late 60's in Tokyo and allow us to understand more about the culture. The only problem that I had is that despite the great efforts of the translator to explain several words and word games in Japanese I felt that there are some things missing in the translation, but I will not blame the translator, there are many books in different languages that are hard to translate and something will be lost in translation. ( )
  CaroPi | May 22, 2015 |
Somehow, I find it troubling to find a word that accurately describe this book. Peaceful? No. Exciting? No. It's nearly impossible to do so. But, this book has absolutely left a big impression on me. ( )
  yamayukkikun | Apr 16, 2015 |
Having just arrived in Hamburg, Germany, 37 year old Toru Watanabe hears an orchestral cover of The Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” which reminds him of his college years. In high school his best friend, Kizuki completed suicide and Watanabe moved to Tokyo for college in the hopes to escape the pain. One day he was reunited with Kizuki’s girlfriend Naoko and they sought solitude in each other’s company. However this relationship wasn’t the right solution for Naoko and she left for a secluded mountain sanatorium near Kyoto.

Norwegian Wood is often referred to as the best starting point when diving into the works of Haruki Murakami, mainly because this is one of the few books that don’t have a magical realism thread to it. This is a good place to start but what I find fascinating is the way Murakami uses magical realism to explore ideas of the mind. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and Norwegian Wood don’t have that same fantastical style but they still follow similar themes. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki looks at the psychological impacts of losing friendships, while this novel looks at ideas of memory. From what I have read so far, Murakami’s other books do similar things but the use of magical realism allows him to dive into the mind and explore it as a fantastical world.

I have heard Norwegian Wood described as a coming of age story so many times, but I find it difficult to classify this book as such; for the simple fact that Toru Watanabe is 37 years on at the start of the novel, even though the majority of the novel is set during his college years. I think this is more a reflection on life and love, a novel that explores ideas of memory and nostalgia through themes like loss, depression and sexuality. This leads me to wonder just how reliable Watanabe really is and if there is a ‘rose coloured glasses’ perception happening in the novel. However the way this novel comes together and deals with memory (especially at the end) works so well and I can understand why Norwegian Wood is a Haruki Murakami favourite for many people.

One thing that really stuck with me with Norwegian Wood is the way Murakami developed characters. I found most characters to be complex and well rounded, they all had a unique personality and it was such a joy to read something with such great character development. A favourite of mine was Midori, who reminds me a lot of my wife; a confident and sure character who is at times insecure but has a great interest in talking about sex with others. She was the highlight of the whole novel and I always looked forward to her turning up within the story.

Before I knew who Haruki Murakami was, I saw the 2010 Japanese movie adaptation and thankfully I forgot most of the story. While images and plot points did come back to me as I read the novel, I was glad I didn’t have that outside influence but now I do need to re-watch the movie. Norwegian Wood is a great starting place if you have never read Haruki Murakami before. Apparently Murakami isn’t too happy that this is the novel that people will read or recognise him by, but it really is one of his stand out books. I have so many more Murakami books to read and I am really looking forward to diving into them all.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/03/08/norwegian-wood-by-haruki-murakami/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Mar 9, 2015 |
While this isn't the quirky trip that many Murakami books are, it's a pretty good book about a guy growing into his own, dealing with loss in his formative years, and having a lot of sex. ( )
  mhanlon | Feb 18, 2015 |
Suppose I told you that I had just finished reading a book about a 19 year-old college student who passes his days going to class and studying disinterestedly while spending his nights in bars getting drunk and looking for one-night relationships. Although in no way an intellectual, this young man does read a lot, with books by J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, and Hermann Hesse being among his favorites. Also, to help pay the bills, he works part time in a record store and really likes to listen to music, especially classical recordings and songs by the Beatles. Finally, he finds himself torn between loving two different women, one who is emotionally fragile but to whom he has deep, tragic ties and another who seems bright and lively, but has dark issues of her own.

So, have I just described virtually every coming-of-age novel written about college kids growing up in the United States during the last 40 years? Maybe, but in Norwegian Wood, we are actually introduced to Toru Watanabe, a young man living in Tokyo in the late 1960s. Indeed, it is an indication of the author’s deft touch that he has been able to craft his protagonist into something of a universal “Everyman” while still making him very much a product of a Japanese upbringing and cultural heritage. We feel Toru’s angst, conflicts, loneliness, and occasional joys from half a world (and half a century) away, which is a great credit to Murakami’s skill at telling a compelling and relatable story.

This novel has been described elsewhere as “elegiac” and that is a perfect word for it. To be sure, Toru has his share of good times and sex—a lot of sex, in fact—but at its heart Norwegian Wood is a melancholy and somberly tinged look at how he reconciles his life-long devotion to the troubled Naoko with the love and deepening connection he feels for the vivacious Midori. Without giving away too many details of the plot, it is also a tale that forces the reader to consider the effects that mental illness and suicide have on the close friends and family of those so afflicted. Certainly, the matter-of-fact way in which the details of those issues are presented forces us to focus more on the consequences than on the events themselves.

I was quite moved by this novel, which was the first of Murakami’s works that I have read. While it was written in a more naturalist manner than the post-modern style the author is best known for, this is a powerful story that is delivered in a subtle and heartfelt way. The narrative is not perfect—the initial framing device of having a 37 year-old Toru reflect back on his school days was quickly abandoned and there is little development of Toru’s or Naoko’s family life—but it is very effective at capturing the mood and spirit of the times. It is also one that shows us in a most poignant way that growing up is hard, no matter where in the world you live. ( )
  browner56 | Dec 29, 2014 |
Come un sasso piatto che salta sull'acqua di un lago, così M. scivola sulle vite di questi ragazzi giapponesi, e delle loro famiglie, e lascia intravedere, nel momento in cui il sasso sfiora l'acqua, la profondità e il grigiore dei loro malesseri, delle domeniche tristi, delle serate paniche.
A differenza del sasso, che prima o poi farà l'ultimo balzo, il libro di M. mantiene indefinitamente la leggerezza del volo e si mantiene alto sulle acque scure, sparendosene chissà dove, terminata l'ultima pagina.Gran bel sito personale
http://tinyurl.com/kkg7r ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Kirjassa japanilainen teatteritieteen opiskelija menettää parhaan ystävänsä, kun tämä tappaa yllättäen itsensä. Parhaan ystävän tyttöystävä Naokon ja päähenkilön välille syntyy erikoinen suhde, kun surun jakamisesta syntyy jotakin rakkaustarinaa muistuttavaa. Naoko voi kuitenkin huonosti ja joutuu muuttamaan kauas vuorelle sijaitsevaan parantolaan. Sillä aikaa päähenkilö tutustuu Midoriin, välittömään opiskelijatyttöön, joka ymmärtää paremmin kuin kukaan. Katkeransuloinen tarina rakkauden etsimisestä, kaipauksesta ja surusta. Romaanissa on vaikutteita mm. Fitzgeraldin Kultahattu-romaanista ja Thomas Mannin Ihmevuoresta, jotka molemmat mainitaan päähenkilön lukemina kirjassa. Kirjan nimen mukaisesti romaanissa myös Norwegian Wood -kappaleella ja musiikilla on teoksessa tärkeä osa. ( )
  KafkaRannalla | Nov 30, 2014 |
This book made me cry. ( )
  rockinghorsedreams | Nov 13, 2014 |
This is the book which put Murakami on the literary map, so to speak. Definitely not as strong as his later work, Norwegian Wood almost seems a rough draft of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Many, and by many I mean all, of the same themes are covered here. Suicide, disconnected young man, mental health, unengaging sex; it's all there.

I might have loved this one more if I had started with it instead of after the quake, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki which are all much more sophisticated. ( )
  AuntieClio | Nov 1, 2014 |
A fairly tedious and plodding account of a young man's student days. This story does not contain the surreal twists and unexpected moments that I like about Murakami's other works. It does, however contain some familiar characters, attractive but enigmatic women, and directionless young men. The musical name-dropping is there in abundance, even in the title. A cynic might see this as a cheap way to latch onto our love of popular culture, though a kinder view might be that it just demonstrates the author's pure love of music.

The first Murakami book I read was "After Dark" which I thought was a real knockout. In comparison this one was a bit of a disappointment. The characters are not really fleshed out enough, their lives aimless, their deaths unexplained and meaningless. In some books, a bleak situation can lead to ironic humour or philosophical speculation, in this story, for me, there is a lack of depth. ( )
  Estramir | Sep 26, 2014 |
In the few days after reading this, my appreciation of this book fell from "Not his best" to "I wish I hadn't read this book".

I think this is mainly because of the almost offhand way suicides are treated here. Sure, they hurt the people that are close, but that's just because they're dead, not because they decided to kill themselves. How can he treat suicides like they are some kind of natural disaster, instead of a choice, and a tragic and/or aggressive choice at that? He does talk about the choice of his main character not to commit suicide, when there is nothing in his life that would warrant such an act. Is this choice the only thing that keeps him alive?

Apart from that, there doesn't seem much point to the whole story, which makes the suicides, and the casual sex as well, even more pointless. Maybe the pointlessness is the point of this book, like in Catcher in the Rye, but even then I would have liked some kind of glimpse, some kind of intuitive inkling, that this isn't all there is to life. ( )
  wester | Sep 23, 2014 |
A different perspective. ( )
  waelrammo | Sep 14, 2014 |
My foray into Murakami. My little sister said it changed her life...I'm inclined to agree. It was the catalyst for my interest in reading emotionally unstable characters. ( )
  kchung_kaching | Sep 1, 2014 |
Essential read. ( )
  Simonmer | Aug 24, 2014 |
Well, after reading other reviews, I have to agree that this is often a beautifully-written, haunting story. Having said that, it's also true that none of the characters (with the exception of Midori) seemed very real to me. The author did not illuminate the reasons behind so much despair and suicide among young people at that time (and still, if I understand correctly) in Japan - and such insight would have been fascinating. The way mental illness is treated in the story is also a bit alarming to me - serious bi-polar and possibly even schizophrenic patients treating each other (for the most part) and giving therapeutic recommendations to each other in a mountain sanitorium? It doesn't seem like a very effective or wise approach. I also have to say I'm surprised that nobody has objected to the completely male-centered view of sex portrayed in the story. Toru's willing female sex partners all have unrealistic no-hands orgasms, and are at every moment available and happy to "serve" his sexual needs with no thought (on his or their parts) to their own. This is even true of Midori, who, as an independent and "liberated" young woman, oddly gives no importance to her own pleasure when it comes to sex - she only cares about pleasing Toru. This utterly male point of view in the "erotic" scenes makes the story harder (at least for me, as a woman) to relate to, and makes all the characters less realistic and sympathetic. ( )
1 vote Fleischmanns | Aug 4, 2014 |
Este es el primer libro que leo de Haruki Murakami. No se porque, pero esperaba algo mas transcendental, con esto no quiero decir que el libro sea poco profundo, todo lo contrario. El problema radica en la forma en la que se cuenta la historia, de manera lenta, al punto en que, por mucho que me interesara seguir leyendo, me daba sueño. Y debo decir que generalmente leer me quita el sueño.

La historia es deprimente, demasiados suicidios para mi gusto. Y aunque se trata de la vida de Toru Watanabe, se enfoca también, por momentos, en la vida de sus amigos: Kizuki, "Tropa de Asalto", Nagasawa, Reiko y especialmente de Naoko y Midori.

Naoko es la más resaltante, y las partes donde ella interviene me resultan particularmente tediosas. Es un personaje extremadamente débil, sus acciones son confusas, y nunca pude sentir simpatía hacia ella.

Por el contrario, amé a Midori. Sus diálogos son espectaculares, sarcásticos, divertidos y reales. Únicamente por ella, y debo admitir que en parte también por Reiko, es que este libro logró gustarme.
( )
  Glire | Jul 7, 2014 |
"Norwegian Wood" was just OK. I read the book out of a hope that it would help me, a temporary resident of Japan, to understand something more about the nation's contemporary culture. Alas, my hope was unrequited.

I enjoyed the author's direct and engaging style. The prose felt very modern -- of which, in my limited reading so far of Japanese authors, I haven't seen much. I wanted to see Murakami went with it.

Unfortunately, Murakami's modern characters were not very interesting or engaging. In particular, I cared little about the odd musings and romantic forays of Toru, the protagonist student. He struck me as an earnest young guy trying to understand himself and figure out the world and his place in it. This is perfectly fine, as we've all been there ourselves; but such a character falls short of the kind of interesting, engaging persona to anchor a novel.

I expected more insight about Toru, and thought it was going to come. The author introduced us to Toru in intriguing fashion in the book's first few pages: a seemingly established, near middle-aged fellow looking back and wondering about his early adult years. Thus began the long backward drift. Murakami hooked me and made me want to know more. But he never tied things up and brought us back to his starting point. To me, that is ragged thinking and poor writing.

Why, then, the book's apparent viral popularity? Beats me. I suppose readers (especially those who are around the same age as the characters) could be drawn to the story by its accounts of multiple suicides, and enjoy speculating about the motivations which underpinned those extreme decisions. But I am in my mid-50s, not 20s, and have amassed too much life experience to feel sympathy for the nihilistic quandries of the mostly normal-sounding young adults who inhabit this story. ( )
1 vote EpicTale | Jun 12, 2014 |
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