Monday, June 8, 2015

Books: Norwegian Wood

Author: Murakami, Haruki 
Language: Norwegian
Translated by: Ika Kaminka
Publication date: 2008 
Page count: 463 
Original title: ノルウェイの森 [Noruwei no mori]
My rating: 

"Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend, Kizuki, years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. 

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.  "

I've read this book twice already and absolutely loved it both times! I am at a different place in my life now compared to where I was the first time I read it, so I feel I was better able to enjoy it and understand it a lot more this time around. Having read other works by Murakami previously, it's much easier to "get" his style of writing, the more books I read by him. His style of writing is definitely weird but, in a really, really good way.

The characters came alive and I somehow took to liking them really fast, especially Toru Watanabe, although I was under the impression that he was a very confused individual who would go wherever the wind led him at times. My least favourite character in this book has to be.... *drum rolls please* .... Midori. It felt as though she was constantly whining and in such terrible spirits. While spending time complaining to Toru Watanabe about how horrible her boyfriend is (as she is in a supposed "bad relationship") and putting him in a bad light, she is spending way too much time with Watanabe and asking him to do strange things, like masturbate while thinking about her (even though she claims to only like him as a friend). Wait, what?

We don't really get to know much of Kizuki, Toru Watanabe's best friend, except for through his flashbacks and thoughts about him every now and again. The book focuses more on Watanabe's life at a boarding school in Tokyo, his feelings for his best friend's girlfriend, the peculiar people he encounters and befriends, suicide and the mark it leaves on those left behind.

As suicide is reported to be very high in many Asian countries, especially in Japan, Murakami paints a brief picture of suicide and death in Norwegian Wood -- among young people in particular. Reading the story of Toru Watanabe made me really appreciate the closeness of family members. He didn't strike me as someone who had a family because there wasn't much reference to his family, if there was any at all. There were a few mentions of Midori's parents a couple of times (although she seemed to have a lot of fun making up stuff about them as she went along, and Watanabe never thought about running the other way, strange), as well as her sister, and Naoko's parents too, but that was about it.

Of course, the absence of several characters in a book sometimes allows for a story to focus on less angles at a time -- which often makes a story a lot less complicated. But, I was left with the impression that Watanabe was completely alone in the world, except for the friends he had, which weren't many, and that was a bit depressing.

I like books set in the 60s and upwards, so I definitely enjoyed the description of Tokyo during those days. It wasn't hard envisioning what it must have looked like or what it must have been like to be a teen back then. A few times it felt like I was actually there with the characters, which made it feel like I had taken a trip to Japan to visit a couple of friends during the 60s-70s. I actually enjoyed reading this book both in Norwegian and in English, and my rating hasn't changed. A certified five.