Review: Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

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But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

I was really excited to find that my second Murakami book was just as great as Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. I was missing out for so long and now it seems I’m on a quest to catch up. Norwegian Wood is a hard book to summarize, mainly because so much happens and there are so many plot lines that I don’t want to give away. In short: Toru Watanabe is a college student who is relatively solitary until he bumps into an old friend from high school, Naoko. They had lost touch after the death of their best friend, Kizuki, but soon rely on each other more deeply than they could have imagined. However, Naoko is still devastated from the loss of Kizuki, and her mental state quickly deteriorates. Toru grapple with the loss of his friends, his feelings for Naoko and the changes college brings, in one of Haruki Murakami’s most popular novels.

I really came to like Watanabe, despite his confusion and sometimes cynical outlook. I was actually reminded a lot of Holden Caulfield by the way he spoke, and laughed when someone asked him if he was doing it on purpose to sound “like that boy from The Catcher int he Rye.”  He truly does the best he can given the difficult situations he is often in, and I’m still here thinking about him after the book ended. Not even just him: Naoko, Reiko, everyone. They were all incredibly complex and so well written that I felt like I lost a friend when Watanabe did.

I couldn’t help but notice a lot of similarities between Norwegian Wood and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. I’m not sure if Murakami’s books all relate in a similar manner, but I kept a list as I read (yes I am that person), and was really surprised but how much was the same.

1. Characters disappearing with no explanations to the reader or the other characters.

2. Names translating to colors. (Midori = Green)

3. Emotionally/mentally unstable female characters

4. Male characters with highly specific interests (map making vs. trains)

5. Long periods of darkness and physical change after a loss

6. Intense reliance on music (piano, guitar, etc.) as therapy

I actually picked up The Wind Up Bird Chronicle last night, and already see similarities between that and Norwegian Wood, and I’m just starting!

Norwegian Wood is just another fantastic example of what I’d been missing all this time. So much so that it made me run to the store and grab another Murakami book right after finishing. October 2014: That time I discovered Murakami and stopped reading anything else. Full of insightful quotes and observations, much like Colorless Tsukuru TazakiNorwegian Wood is a memorable book with characters you will root for throughout.

Are you a Murakami fan? What’s your favorite of his books?

6 comments

  1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was my first Murakami book and I’ve been looking forward to reading more from him ever since! Coincidentally, I recently bought Norwegian Wood so your review has me extra pumped about it! I’m glad to hear it delighted you just as much. I’m not sure if all of Murakami’s books deals with similar issues, having not read much by him, but from what I gather he has a few signature themes/details that he revisits quite a bit (eg. classical music, slightly surreal scenes, etc).

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