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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting
" 'Norwegian Wood' is still the one Murakami book that 'everyone' in Japan has read," says Jay Rubin in his Translator's Note of this simple, straightforward, semi-autobiographical story. Toru Watanabe as narrator of this 1960s period piece reminds me of Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald's "Gatsby"; Watanabe seems one step removed from the action even while he is part of it,...
Published on June 21 2001 by Laure-Madeleine

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3.0 out of 5 stars Very convincing characters,deeply insightful perspective
37-year-old businessman Watanabe recalls his days as an 'ordinary' University student in the 70s and Norwegian Wood is his story.Through his narrating,the reader knows very convincing characters like Naoko (his beloved,ethereal gal whose importance I believe is pivotal as a deceptively simple romance for readers looking for a poignant 'love story'),very charming Reiko(who...
Published on Sept. 6 2003 by J Ng


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, June 21 2001
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
" 'Norwegian Wood' is still the one Murakami book that 'everyone' in Japan has read," says Jay Rubin in his Translator's Note of this simple, straightforward, semi-autobiographical story. Toru Watanabe as narrator of this 1960s period piece reminds me of Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald's "Gatsby"; Watanabe seems one step removed from the action even while he is part of it, and his commentary shapes a critique of contemporary Japanese society. So "Norwegian Wood" is a love story set against a larger theme of questioning the Establishment. Another theme is the characters' insouciance about lovemaking. Letterwriting and love letters are part of Murakami's (Watanabe's) narrative strategy, which lend this novel a heightened sense of intimacy. Near the end, Watanabe says, "Letters are just pieces of paper . . . Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them and what vanishes will vanish." Haruki Murakami's "Norwegian Wood" stays in the heart; it is his enchanting letter from the '60s, with love.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Humor Balancing the Sadness That Makes This an All-time "Catcher in the Rye" Classic, Feb. 1 2009
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
When I reached the last page of "Norwegian Wood," after reading the novel's pitch-perfect last line, due to an utter unwillingness, a near inability, to leave the beautiful world Murakami had created, I proceeded to immediately flip back to the first page and start all over again. That was a few years back now. I've read it again since. More than once.

Because the book hit a place in my soul, a mate to my soul, a heart to my heart.

The Beatles song Murakami's 1987 novel is named after is on surface listen a pretty two minute ditty. A pretty, but sad, thing. The tone of Murakami's novel has something similar gently pulling the reader through. It is also equally deceptive to the song in how simple it seems, how easy it reads. Yet, beneath a book that reads like almost pure autobiography, and a song that listens like effortless melody, lie layered artful structure, and things thematically heavier than meet the eye.

The Beatles' song that is so melodically sweet ends with a man taking revenge on a girl who would not sleep with him, by burning down the furniture in her room.

Murakami's narrator does no such thing. But his book too juxtaposes a gentle tone with themes of longing, of loss and of what can and will never be.

To be somewhat vague and very brief "Norwegian Wood," set in the Tokyo of the 1960s, is a love story. Basically it is a sad story. Most all the love in the book is of the unrequited variety, and there is more than one suicide. The book has much to lend itself to feeling blue, like Miles Davis on his muted trumpet. But for every lonely moment, you get a scene with a character like Reiko, a friend like Reiko, a woman who should be tragic considering her history but who, by the time we meet her in a sort of sanatorium for sad or screwed up people, turns out to be that rock solid salt of the earth type who seems like the mentally healthiest person on earth. Better still, though no longer the piano virtuoso she once was, she plays a mean guitar, Beatles song included.

The magic of Murakami's "Norwegian Wood," is that a book so focused on sad subject manner manages to have what all books need to be great - a sense of adventure. Not, of course, in the children's literature sense of the word, but in the 'you've gone off to another place' sense.

"... the bus plunged into a chilling cedar forest. The trees might have been old growth the way they towered over the road, blocking out the sun and covering everything in gloomy shadows. The breeze flowing into the bus's open windows turned suddenly cold, its dampness sharp against the skin. The valley road hugged the river bank, continuing so long through the trees it began to seem as if the whole world had been buried for ever in cedar forest - at which point the forest ended, and we came to an open basin surrounded by mountain peaks. Broad, green farmland spread out in all directions, and the river by the road looked bright and clear. A single thread of white smoke rose in the distance..."

Best of all is the poetry is in the book's balance, as alongside depression and suicide, you also get a character like Midori - one of my favourite in all modern literature.

"At 5:30 Midori said she had to go home and make dinner. I said I would take a bus back to my dorm, and saw her as far as the station.
'Know what I want to do now?' Midori asked me as she was leaving.
'I have absolutely no idea what you could be thinking,' I said.
'I want you and me to be captured by pirates. Then they strip us and press us together face to face all naked and wind these ropes around us.'
'Why would they do a thing like that?'
'Perverted pirates,' she said.
'You're the perverted one,' I said."

And really, what else do you need to help you cope with death, and the kind of love that will never be, but perverted pirates?

-Probably Because I Have To
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, May 17 2004
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Wow! I was completely enchanted by this lyrical novel. The character development is outstanding and the mood really grabs you and gives the words a sense of depth and intense presence.
Toru Watanabe is a young man coming into his own and deciding how to live. He does choose to live though, when so many others around him are choosing to die. It is powerful to see his struggles to "wind his spring" as so much comes crashing down around him and he deals with the monotony of life.
He is torn between two loves, until Reiko shows him that it is wonderful to be able to love at all, it is a gift, and that he should not feel bad for loving two women. Naoko and he have a relationship on the edge of life and death which intoxicates him and draws him to her. Midori is an amazing character (I absolutely loved her!) and so full of life that it helps keep him connected to the living world.
I especially enjoyed how sex was used in such creative ways. Sex was used to help us identify with the characters, to illuminate the difference between flesh and soul, to illustrate the frustrations of growing up, to form a friendship, to share passion, just to be alive!
This book did remind me of the Japanese version of The Catcher in the Rye, and Toru does read that novel quite often. There is just something about this book that transcends language and explanation. I loved this book and will definitely enjoy reading it again! A must read!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Bird Has Flown, April 15 2004
By 
M. Ansty "MadMagic" (Indianapolis) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru, a 20-ish University student living in Tokyo. Toru is devoted to Naoko, the girlfriend of his deceased best friend. Toru and Naoko find each other in Tokoyo a year or so after the death of their friend. They are both lonely, living in a big new city, trying to make a new start of a life tainted by loss. They need each other and on Naoko's birthday their emotional need turns to physical need and desire. Their happiness together is short lived, as Naoko's feelings of confusion drive her to check into a facility where Naoko is able to retreat further into herself.
Meanwhile, back in Tokyo Toru meets Midori. She cooks for him and becomes the friend he didn't have and the friend he desperatley needed. As the story continues Toru finds himself drawn more and more to Midori, yet he can't escape the loyalty and love he has for Naoko.
This is a story of finding yourself and what you need. It's a story of loyalty, of love, of guilt, of pleasure. The pleasure it gives to the reader is unavoidable, the language it uses is lovely and makes you feel each emotion Toru experiences as if it were you experiencing it.
Title after a Beatle song full of emotion, this book more than lives up to the high standard it's title gives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Bird Has Flown, April 15 2004
By 
M. Ansty "MadMagic" (Indianapolis) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Norwegian Wood tells the story of Toru, a 20-ish University student living in Tokyo. Toru is devoted to Naoko, the girlfriend of his deceased best friend. Toru and Naoko find each other in Tokoyo a year or so after the death of their friend. They are both lonely, living in a big new city, trying to make a new start of a life tainted by loss. They need each other and on Naoko's birthday their emotional need turns to physical need and desire. Their happiness together is short lived, as Naoko's feelings of confusion drive her to check into a facility where Naoko is able to retreat further into herself.
Meanwhile, back in Tokyo Toru meets Midori. She cooks for him and becomes the friend he didn't have and the friend he desperatley needed. As the story continues Toru finds himself drawn more and more to Midori, yet he can't escape the loyalty and love he has for Naoko.
This is a story of finding yourself and what you need. It's a story of loyalty, of love, of guilt, of pleasure. The pleasure it gives to the reader is unavoidable, the language it uses is lovely and makes you feel each emotion Toru experiences as if it were you experiencing it.
Title after a Beatle song full of emotion, this book more than lives up to the high standard it's title gives.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical meditation on life and death masked as a love story, April 6 2004
By 
L. Rephann "curious about everything" (Brooklyn, New York United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
This is the first book by Haruki Murakami I've read, and on the strength of this, I would certainly attempt his other novels. "Norwegian Wood" is a quick read, drawing the reader in closer and deeper as the characters, their lives, and their deaths intertwine.
Having just finished the book, I'm at a bit of a loss for what to say about it. It is about love, death, youth, friendship, and ultimately, how fragile and delicate humans are, and how much we seek protection from this fragility in the arms of others or in our own private prisons. Toru Watanabe, the protagonist, locks himself in a prison of solitude, which he eventually escapes, with difficulty, only through the death of a close friend/lover and the realization that he is basically alone in the world. This realization forces him to come to terms with his feelings for a woman who challenges his cold side while simultaneously acknowledging his softer side via her own need for companionship, understanding, and love.
There are many deaths in this book, although they take place somewhat at the outskirts of the other action. The deaths act as catalysts for characters to learn, grow, change, or in some cases, retreat, wither, and become isolated. It is this constant interplay between retreat and advancement, withering and growth, isolation and togetherness, which seems to be a theme of this novel, and a central struggle each and every one of its characters must face. In that respect, Murakami has hit on a central struggle for all humans: intimacy vs. independence.
It's Murakami's amazingly poetic writing, his evocative, sensual observations, and the way he renders characters so complex with the simplest of language and details that makes this novel so memorable. Another reviewer compared it to Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and while the content and themes are somewhat different, perhaps the lesson is that the elusive "comfort zone," finding it and staying in it, is a major concern of and struggle for most people. There is always something ready to knock us off or out of that balance.
The ending of this novel doesn't suggest that Watanabe has found that balance or lost it. It really says nothing about how Watanabe resolves the current dynamics in his life. And perhaps that "non-ending" is just another reflection of the "unbearable lightness of being," the strange place which we seem to inhabit only at times, when our expectations, needs, and actions all seem to magically work together at once. The normal state of affairs is that these things conspire to unbalance us, especially when we bring other people into the equation. "Norwegian Wood" expresses, in beautiful language, how the balance between people is so delicate, and how it sometimes takes a major catalyst, like death or loss, to jolt us into understanding our inter-connectedness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sad and painful, Feb. 27 2004
By 
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
What is it about these Japanese writers that are able to make prose sound like Poetry? I am a fan of Banana Yoshimoto, another Japanese writer, whose book "the Kitchen" is one of my favorites. Norwegian Wood deals with the same "life after (the) death (of a close person)" issues and what it does to those left behind. However, whereas "the Kitchen" is a short, condensed book which brings on, alongside the feelings of grief and pain a very strong passion for life and all it has to offer, Norwegian Wood is a very long (at least - it feels like very long) tale with a lot of detailed inside reflection and thought.
I was not expecting this book to be what it is - a wonderful, dark piece of art. A heavy shadow clings to your heart while reading this story and the feeling of sadness and very deep sorrow is overwhelming and stays with you for a long time. I was therefore surprised to read that this book is described as an "erotic love story". It is true that the book has many sex scenes, but the sex is so painful and so connected to the overall grave feeling of the book that it brings no comfort. Also, the words "love story ", seem - so I feel - to simplify this very complicated story.
Reading the translator's note at the end of the book I understand that the story has some autobiographical points, especially in the portrayal of a Japanese student life in the 70 years. For me however, this was a very personal inner account of a difficult time in a young man's life - a period that will leave its deep marks and in many ways will shape the man he is about to become. Norwegian Wood deals with questions of loyalty - to yourself, to the dead and the living and discusses the thin line between sanity and insanity. Most of all you are a participant to the hero's inner world - his feelings and the process of his falling in love - what he is drawn to and what captures his heart.
Highly recceomended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, Feb. 13 2004
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Wow! I was completely enchanted by this lyrical novel. The character development is outstanding and the mood really grabs you and gives the words a sense of depth and intense presence.
Toru Watanabe is a young man coming into his own and deciding how to live. He does choose to live though, when so many others around him are choosing to die. It is powerful to see his struggles to "wind his spring" as so much comes crashing down around him and he deals with the monotony of life.
He is torn between two loves, until Reiko shows him that it is wonderful to be able to love at all, it is a gift, and that he should not feel bad for loving two women. Naoko and he have a relationship on the edge of life and death which intoxicates him and draws him to her. Midori is an amazing character (I absolutely loved her!) and so full of life that it helps keep him connected to the living world.
I especially enjoyed how sex was used in such creative ways. Sex was used to help us identify with the characters, to illuminate the difference between flesh and soul, to illustrate the frustrations of growing up, to form a friendship, to share passion, just to be alive!
This book did remind me of the Japanese version of The Catcher in the Rye, and Toru does read that novel quite often. There is just something about this book that transcends language and explanation. I loved this book and will definitely enjoy reading it again! A must read!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Very convincing characters,deeply insightful perspective, Sept. 6 2003
By 
J Ng (Singapore) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
37-year-old businessman Watanabe recalls his days as an 'ordinary' University student in the 70s and Norwegian Wood is his story.Through his narrating,the reader knows very convincing characters like Naoko (his beloved,ethereal gal whose importance I believe is pivotal as a deceptively simple romance for readers looking for a poignant 'love story'),very charming Reiko(who also has her strange,tantalising story to tell) and fickle,sensitive and frank Midori who, genuinely loves Watanabe.
Norwegian Wood surely deserves more than three stars for the author's deeply insightful perspective for all characters,including the lonely,young one-night-stander Watanabe.Obviously,the characters are so true-to-life that they could be strangers standing beside you,young adults reading Thomas Mann at a cafe or chatting in the pub with jazz buzzing around,or somebody playing piano in the restaurant you are sitting in.
Yet,from the author's pen,every character is bestowed a kind of tenderness ,sympathy and helplessness with their plights.Trust your intuition,the characters have no way out although they've tried their best like you and I.
The reason why I give it a three-star is the book doesn't give me what some reviewers have felt upon finishing.While admiring the author's sharp portraits of the characters(in fact,its so good that it doesn't feel you are reading Fiction at all!),as a reader I would have expected a louder,more engaging if not all- fair voice in a novel,instead of a blander,quieter piece like Norwegian Wood that reads deceptively like some popular pulps.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deceptively simple, Feb. 17 2003
By 
Ms Diva "cycworker" (Nanaimo, B.C. Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
I found that this book was hard to get into at first. I read about a chapter and a half and needed a break. Once I picked it up again, I was hooked.
Although on the surface this novel appears to be a simple coming of age tale, it goes much deeper than that. I found myself getting caught up in the creative way that Murakami uses setting to create tone and atmosphere in the story. The things going on in the background - the campus riots, dorm life, the sanitarium, etc., aren't just there to fill up space. They're integral to creating the mood the author needs to get across his themes. And his themes are very complex - issues to do with the nature of love, life, and loss in modern society. This is a very disturbing book, with some imagery (the sex scenes aren't thrown in here just to be titillating. In fact, the sex is some of the most disturbing I've read in serious fiction in a long time. But that's part of the point - he's showing how sex can actually be a means of creating distance rather closeness between people) although there is an element of hope in the end.
I didn't like the use of the flashback technique in this book. The novel starts with Toru, the main character, as an adult reflecting back on his life at age 20ish. Other authors (notably Wolff in Patterns of Childhood) have used memory as a device to better effect than Murakami did here. He could just as easily have started the novel with Toru at 19 and skipped the first chapter. The book doesn't particularly deal well with mental illness or suicide, in that I didn't particularly gain a whole lot more insight into either of those two issues than I had prior to reading the book.
Having said that, the reason this book is so gripping and kept me reading to the end is that Murakami created characters I could invest in and relate to. I cared about these people, and I wanted to know what happened to them. Naoko wasn't quite as fully fleshed out as Toru, or even Midori, but I think that fit; so much of she was was an image in Toru's mind. This novel is one where the use of the first person narrative was an brilliant choice on behalf of the author. It's vital to the story that everything is told from Toru's point of view. The dialogue is very good, too.
I can't compare this novel to any of the author's other work, as I haven't read any of it. I don't expect to rush out and read his other books, given how different they are purported to be compared to Norwegian Wood. I will say that if you are looking for a coming of age novel that still has appeal to those over the age of 25, this book is a good choice.
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Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Paperback - Sept. 12 2000)
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