Published September 12th 2000 by Vintage Books (first published January 1st 1987).
This book has nothing to do with Norway or woods. Well, maybe with the woods, setting-wise. It does, however, mention the Beatles song a couple of times. (Okay, that’s a lame opener.)
Japanese author Haruki Murakami is known for his complex and surreal style of writing, tackling rather heavy societal issues in his fiction writing. His characters feel grounded and relatable. His themes are, at times, controversial, yet people respond to them.
Norwegian Wood is a coming-of-age story of Toru Watanabe, a young man in the 1960s-70s. Toru narrates his story in first person struggling with his friends, school, and love life; dealing with suicide, relationships, and his own personal issues. His best friend, Kizuki commits suicide and this event heavily affects Toru and the people around him. He shares this world with Naoko, Kizuki’s girlfriend, whom he is sort of in love with also. Naoko never really recovers and goes into depression. Through the years, their lives are touched by more people: Midori, Toru’s friend from school; Reiko, Naoko’s roommate; and other colorful characters.
The Beatles song that shares the same name as the novel describes Toru and Naoko’s relationship: “I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…” They have a very complicated – and for one time, sexual – relationship. Did they or did they not love each other?
Reading this book is like being transported to an other-wordly, ethereal place as if you are in somewhere magical. His writing is just so beautiful and poetic, the words flow nicely on the page. Toru reminds me of Daria. He just goes with what life throws at him. He doesn’t think he’s any special and he knows that he’s flawed and accepts it. The subject of suicide is heavily featured in this book. In the news, I have read Japanese and Korean and other Asian young people committing suicide. Some of them are famous actors and models. Even though this was first published in the late 80s, it clearly is still relevant today.
Kudos also to translator Jay Rubin who managed to maintain the integrity and intensity of the work. Being bilingual myself, I know that are are some words in my language that have no exact translation in English. The way he weaved the words set up a crystal clear atmosphere while maintaining the mood that Murakami’s works are famous for.
Overall, it is a tale of growing up. A lyrical piece of fiction that captures the reader and does not let go.
Recommendation: Lovely imagery, deep emotions, and exceptional writing. I wish everyone would read this book.
Get your copy here.