Norwegian Wood, first published in Japan in 1987, is one of Haruki Murakami’s most well-known novels. Expect Murakami’s quirky writing to guide you into a world of fascinating and unique characters. Steeped in maturity and intrigue, this novel expresses both the wholeness and twisted nature of human nature. Murakami captures the many odd habits of his characters in a disturbingly unforgettable way and I feel that its crew of characters is one of the strongest points of this novel.
Set during the late 1960’s to early 1970’s Japan, the novel is the story of Toru Watanabe, a normal and diffident college student looking for a way to deal with everything that happens around him like the death of his best friend, Kizuki. He then met Naoko when he moved to Tokyo to attend university, a naive young lady whom she fell in love with to find out Kizuki was Naoko’s former boyfriend.
A girl of doubts and vulnerability, Naoko was not sure how he would deal with Toru which made them drift apart away. Toru then meets Midori, the sensual, liberated and outspoken lady whom Toru had sexual interactions with. We learned along the way that Midori also has her own share of longing for relationships. The rest of the story then revolved around Toru torn between Naoko and Midori.
This is basically an adolescent love story which tackles issues of adolescents growing up in this world looking for their identity. This is also a story of death and the complications of many things that comes with it—how many of us deal with death differently, how each loss represents a scar in each of us and how it heals depends on us.
No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.
—Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
The plot is flimsy, at best. Rather, Watanabe and the array of people he meets in university are what tie the story together. Outrageous and explicit, the mysterious Naoko, whimsical Midori, wise Reiko and arrogant Nagasawa all end up charming you in their own ways. It is because of this that Norwegian Wood becomes more than just a simple love story.
The dialogue in Norwegian Wood is another outstanding factor for me. As I read the book, I was greeted by surprising situations, engaging conversations and slowly learned to expect the unexpected from Norwegian Wood (ironically).
The novel engages one with its setting as well, framed in the late 1950s during the Japanese student movement. Murakami comments on the political landscape of Japan through Watanabe’s experiences and thoughts. It touches on the student revolution at the end of the 1960’s, sexual liberation and mental illness. Watanabe’s student life is also brought to life in a forgotten bookshop, a mental rehabilitation sanctuary in the countryside and the narcotic haze of drinking bars and love hotels.
In an attempt to sum up my thoughts, I feel that Norwegian Wood shines by presenting a haunting coming-of-age narrative of powerful, all-consuming love, insanity and death.