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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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10,168221282 (3.99)4 / 361
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 |
English (166)  Spanish (15)  Dutch (15)  Catalan (4)  Swedish (4)  French (4)  Italian (4)  Hungarian (2)  German (2)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hebrew (1)  Korean (1)  All languages (221)
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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 |
Norwegian Wood is unlike most books by Haruki Murakami in that it deals less with the noticeably odd and instead is concerned with a coming-of-age story. The main character, Toru, is at university in Japan during the late 60s and Murakami captures the music, mood, and ethos of the era wonderfully as he explores the relationships between Toru and his first love - Naoko, and a fiercely independent girl called Midori.

This is the book that made Murakami famous in Japan and one can see why: Norwegian Wood captures a lost age and explores the idea of one's first love through all its triumphs and hopelessness. Although markedly different from his other works (such as Kafka on the Shore for example), Norwegian Wood is a moving story and very good. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
The descriptions from this book leave such a good impression. I loved how intricately everything was portrayed, so that made it fun to read.

The downside though is that he's rather too descriptive on many things. Too much for my taste. And it's also quite a depressing book, so keep that in mind. ( )
  kbeihl | Apr 11, 2014 |
Excellent ( )
  lloyd1175 | Mar 22, 2014 |
In this book Murakami expounds on the imperfections of us all and demonstrates that no matter how much we try not to hurt the people we love that we can inadvertently end up doing the very thing we do not want to do. This is not a book for the vulnerable but it is about the vulnerable and, if one agrees with my interpretation of Murakami’s work, we are all vulnerable.

The themes tackled in this book are heavy. They include the effect of suicide on those left behind; coping with the illness and death of a close relative; first love; mental illness; self-loathing and self-criticism; coming of age; a sense of duty to the dead; misunderstandings between loved ones. There is much in this book that will make it a difficult read for many but, for those able and willing to take up the challenge, it is a rewarding read.

Jay Rubin obviously did an excellent job with the translation as the only clues to its being a translation are the words in the book identifying the translator and the knowledge that Murakami writes in Japanese. I always believe that the more inconspicuous the presence of a translator in a work the greater is the skill of that translator. ( )
  pgmcc | Mar 15, 2014 |
I tried. I wanted to like it. I wanted to read the whole book and say "Yes, I understand now why so many love this author." Nope. I gave it about 60 pages... more than fair. I found it boring. I didn't care about any of the characters. Maybe... maybe, I'll try a different Murakami.
  CaliSoleil | Mar 5, 2014 |
Beautifully sad and nostalgic. Touching and well-paced. An examination of loss and maturity. ( )
  blanderson | Mar 4, 2014 |
Beautiful and a book that will come back to haunt me later. ( )
  StigE | Feb 22, 2014 |
Ik weet niet zo goed wat ik van dit boek vind. Het is mooi geschreven, het leest goed en toch had ik het gevoel er niet goed in te komen. Misschien cultuurverschil? Ik vond de hoofdpersoon zo blanco, ondanks allerlei heftige ontwikkelingen (een vriend en een vriendin die doodgaan) kan ik niet meevoelen met de hoofdpersoon. ( )
  elsmvst | Feb 7, 2014 |
Amazing. Captivating. This book had me hooked from page 1 until the very end. Murakami has the gift to describe simple, everyday acts and details in a fascinating and unique way. Page after page the emotions of the story are growing stronger and stronger, not in the words or sentences used, but inside your body and mind. The central chapter six, which is somewhat the crux of the story, lasts for 80 pages but doesn't bore a single moment. Simply a must-read for people who are not afraid of some melancholy or downheartedness. As a back-cover reviewer says: it makes you tingle with life. ( )
  Differenti | Jan 24, 2014 |
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