Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami,
Translator: Jay Rubin
Published by: Vintage International
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
This is the second time I’ve read this book, the first having been many years ago, and I was worried it wouldn’t hold up to my memories after my disappointment with Kafka on the Shore. Thankfully that didn’t happen.
Norwegian Wood is a coming-of-age story set in the late 1960s student protest in Japan focusing on the life of Toru Watanabe as he tries to figure out what he’s doing in life, chronicling his relationships with three women, Naoko, Reiko, and Midori.
At its heart though, Norwegian Wood is also a love story, asking questions about what happens when the person you’re in love with never loved you back? Murakami examines the nature of human emotion and attachment, as Toru falls in and out of love, exploring different kinds of love, the possibility of being in love with two people at the same time and the beauty that is found in the humanness of life and relationships. It’s also a book that asks questions about death and what it means to keep living after some one close to you has died.
As in Kafka on the Shore, Murakami’s prose is just beautiful. There’s a sense of otherworldly in his writing, giving it an ethereal tone even as he writes about the mundane activities of the day, hanging laundry to dry, grabbing a sandwich from the station before boarding the train, reading and writing letters. Every reference placed in the story doesn’t feel out of place or an attempt by the author to appear intelligent. Instead, references to certain authors, books and musicians are noted because that’s what the characters read or listen to.
I didn’t have as much problem with the female character in Norwegian Wood as I did in Kafka on the Shore. Although the sexual relationships in this book are still rather unbalanced, Naoko, Reiko and Midori all felt like their own person, rather than caricatures of a single woman.