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Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
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Norwegian Wood (original 1987; edition 2000)

by Haruki Murakami, Jay Rubin (Translator)

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9,970214285 (4)4 / 341
Jenners26's review
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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Showing 1-25 of 159 (next | show all)
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 |
Nobody does a simple story like Murakami. Different from his other novels? Yes. Still beautiful and strange? Of course. ( )
  newskepticx | Dec 18, 2013 |
Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I hadn't already read many of Murakami's other novels first. He covers many of the same themes and ideas elsewhere. I just found this one more depressing than it was worth. ( )
  tercat | Nov 19, 2013 |
Norwegian Wood by [a:Haruki Murakami|3354|Haruki Murakami|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1350230608p2/3354.jpg] is an absolute delight. It is, without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. Norwegian Wood captures the essence of a lot of things - one should imagine Murakami wearing a wizard's robe while slowly cooking up the ingredients of a masterpiece.

The main story focuses around Toru Watanabe, who is, in all respects, just a guy. A young man with emotions, with desires, who isn't limited by his own body or mind. The rest of the book is a love story, it's about attraction, special moments, the wounds that distance and time inflict on a loving heart. It's about settling down while looking for adventure (Midori). But most of all, it tries to capture the permanent sadness that lingers within (specifically through Naoko, making for some heartbreakingly beautiful scenes). The novel is drenched in solitude, and the difficulty of both sharing and appreciating the good that comes our way.

I could really go on and on about this book. It's sheer storytelling pleasure, and one of the most subtle attacks on the heart one could imagine. ( )
  WorldInColour | Oct 12, 2013 |
I must have come to this novel too late to identify with the characters. I suspect that as someone not close to the turmoils of coming-of-age and navigating the transition to adulthood, I couldn't fill in the gaps of what is unsaid to make the characters real. Or perhaps this book is less fantastical than Murakami's other works; it still has the same surface-simplicity and cultural mash-ups of his other works, but something was missing. It lacked depth. For beauty of language, teenage idealism, and senseless death I much preferred the first two volumes of Mishima's Sea of Fertility. ( )
  ELiz_M | Oct 12, 2013 |
I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
She showed me her room, isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said, "It's time for bed"

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn't it good, Norwegian wood.


- The Beatles

Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood is a love story: on author’s own confession, “a straight, simple story” quite unlike the type of fiction he is well known for. Murakami claims the novel was a challenge to him, a test of his capability to write a “straight” story; many of his fans see it as a betrayal of what his works had stood for until then. Not having read any of Murakami’s works so far, I had the advantage of approaching it with an unprejudiced mind. And I found that while the story was straight, it was anything but simple.

The novel is one bunch of impressions. The prose is sensual, even voluptuous: descriptions of landscapes and weather are done in long and loving detail. There is very little exploration of inner mental states, other than as broad description of emotions, even though we are listening to only one voice throughout the book. It is rather like stream of consciousness turned outward.

I have been trying to do a traditional review of this book for quite some time now, but have been finding it impossible. So I will give you my impressions of reading the book.

Reading Norwegian Wood (for me) is like sitting on the porch at twilight during a rare break in the rains during the monsoon, watching the golden rays of the dying sun light up the rain-drenched earth, and filling your lungs with the smell of the rain.

Reading Norwegian Wood is like waking up on a winter morning, opening the window and getting hit in the face by an invigorating blast of icy East Wind.

Reading Norwegian Wood is like staying up late, listening to the harmonious cacophony of drums at our local temple festival, inhaling the aroma of the burning lamp wicks and incense.

Highly recommended.
( )
1 vote Nandakishore_Varma | Sep 28, 2013 |
Amazing Book. Love it. ( )
  MerryMeerkat | Sep 26, 2013 |
There were parts I enjoyed, while others not so much. The author is definitely one I'd go back to, but I'm not sure if this was the best place to start, as the first book to read by this author.

I'm not sure of things were lost due the translation, or if they were originally just that awkward but there were a few times where words and phrases just didn't fit with the rest of the paragraph or section of the novel - and this wasn't awkward because the characters themselves were awkward or had scattered thoughts. It broke up the rest of the novel and what I found to be incredible writing.

At times what the author had to say was quite profound, although other times, I found it to be somewhat juvenile. I had a hard time placing this book, as there were times it felt like a book aimed to a young adult audience, while other times it felt like it was aimed for an adult audience. With that being said, the book and characters are in a time where they are on that cusp between being a young adult and adult, and the author showed that well, but I still felt there were a lot of pieces, especially with certain characters that were juvenile. It often felt out of place and disrupted the narrative. Midori was one example of this as I began to dread any scene she was in. She wasn't a very likeable character and I don't think she meshed well into the rest of the story.

The story itself was well done, it's a depressing story and quite heavy, but the author shows the struggles the characters go through beautifully. He shows the reader, all of the raw emotions and experiences his characters go through, and he did it very well.

Also found on my book review blog Jules' Book Reviews - Norwegian Wood ( )
  bookwormjules | Sep 14, 2013 |
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