Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is a fictional 1987 novel set in 1960s Tokyo. The novel became popular with Japanese youth and propelled Murakami to new heights of fame.
The narrator Toru Watanabe reminisces about his days as a college student in 1960s Tokyo. At the time Watanabe developed strong relationships with two women whose personalities are opposite of one another. Naoko is beautiful yet troubled while Midori is outgoing and lively.
It’s a memorable story, yet simple and unassuming. Patience seems to be the main theme as Watanabe waits for a woman to return his love.
Unlike Murakami other books, this one lacks the supernatural elements over more practical ones such as choosing a realistic partner over a lost fantasy. Watanabe copes with loss throughout the book and the tale, told in flashbacks, is mostly how he copes with them.
The characters are well defined and realistic while they battle tragedy tossed at them at every turn by Murakami. They have romantic inspirations and rejections, struggle with depression and are flawed. For a short book such as this, there are many references to dead or dying characters.
While many of the pages are gloomy, many others are filled with hope and humor. If I had to use word to describe this novel I would choose “authentic,” as the book feels fresh and unconventional. It is beyond me how the author managed to create such a unique atmosphere while writing; nonetheless, it’s certainly conveyed to me as a reader, even as a translated work.
Norwegian Wood is a readable book, intensely individual, and from my understanding an earlier translation was used by school children in Japan to learn English. I found that a bit amusing since the book includes masturbation, drunkenness, promiscuity, molestation, mental illness, suicide, and more.
This is before I learned that the book was banned in the U.S.