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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Some choose to live..., Jan. 9 2003
By 
cnyadan (Bavaria, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
I bought this book a long time ago, thinking it looked interesting, but it was probably two years before I actually got around to reading it. When I did, I just about devoured it, not because it is the best book in the world, but because it captures a particular time so well, and the choices one comes to in building a life philosophy.
Set in Japan in 1969 and 1970, it's the story of a young college student, Toru, and his "relationship" with a girl, Naoko, who was the girlfriend of his best friend, who killed himself a couple of years before. Toru's life isn't charmed, but he's making it through, despite his shortcomings and mistakes. Naoko has a harder time dealing with life itself, with her own and others' imperfections, and this inability to cope with the everyday eventually leads her down her own path. Toru attempts to understand her, be there for her, and love her as best he can. Being only 19 himself (at the beginning of the book), he's got a lot of growing up to do and decisions to make himself. In the end, he probably makes the only decision he can make without going crazy himself, but this is also not without a great deal of sadness.
The one gripe I have about this book is that there is quite a few sex scenes... This is played off, in part, to Toru's "craziness", but still was kind of weird. What I did enjoy, though, was the description of the few people closest to Toru, his roommate, whom Toru has nicknamed "Stormtrooper", Toru's only "friend" in the dorms, this guy's girlfriend, Midori, Naoko, and Naoko's roommate. Each is a different type of "crazy". Some have even realized as much, and it's interesting to see how each character deals with that in themselves, and as it pertains to living with the rest of this crazy world. And no, not everybody makes it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Murakami proves himself to be more than a 'niche' writer, Oct. 13 2002
By 
A. Steinhebel (Tacoma, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
This novel was a huge depature from Murakami's other work. Unlike his other works, which are chalk full of evil sheep, unicorns, wind up birds, and the end of the world, Norwegian Wood is a fairly straight forward coming of age love story. But the relativly simplistic plot of this novel betrays a very complex underworking that is just as good, if not better, then the other, more playful and bizarre, books. In terms of actual style, I couldn't help but liken it to a mixture of The Great Gatasby and Catcher in the Rye (bot of which are alluded too many times in the course of Norwegian Wood). Unlike the other Murakami's, which I feel have an almost emotional void to them (which I love, don't get me wrong...), this one was almost painfully emotional. Loce, loss, hardship, happiness; Murakami touches on all of them. And Toru Watanabe is not the average Murakami Hero. AGain, he is more emotional, less detached then the others. The reader knows him far better than any of the other protagonists in the other novels. You feel for him. You understand the basis of his pain. It's really a powerful novel. Any Murakami fan that hasn't yet read this, must get to it as soon as poissible. Don't overlook it because it appears to be mainstream (which it really isn't). However...if you are looking for a Murakami book to start with, I really can't recommend this one, simply because it is so much more different than the other books. Try the Wind-up Chronicle or A Wild Sheep Chase. And have fun. Reading Murakami for the first time is on e of the greatest experiences you can have.
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1.0 out of 5 stars GET THE ALFRED BIRNBAUM TRANSLATION, Aug. 17 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
It's not "Norwegian Wood" the story itself that I give 1 star to- it's the Jay Rubin translation. Over a decade ago I bought the Alfred Birnbaum translation, and I find Birnbaum to be a far superior translator to Rubin. Rubin's translation of certain sensual phrases from the Japanese turn into stale duds of sentences compared to Birnbaum's more heartfelt ones. Moreover, Rubin deletes words, sentences and paragraphs as he feels fit- Birnbaum does not make as vast edits as Rubin does. In this version of NW, Rubin writes that Murakami has approved this as the official translation. I'm sorry to say that although Murakami is my favorite author in the whole world, I have heard him lecture and his spoken English is remarkably terrible- he may know how to translate written English to Japanese really well, but he could use to learn about translating from his native language to English. I've rattled on long enough- but let it be said, Birnbaum's translation is far superior- and if you do not live in Japan, then go to your local Japanese bookstore in America like Kinokuniya or Asahiya and get it- leave this disgrace of a translation on the shelf.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Mirror for Readers, April 8 2002
By 
PseudoDionysius (Bloomington, IN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
This is my second Murakami book. The first was his Akutagawa prize winner from a while ago that did not leave enough of an impression to imprint the title in memory.
But now, this book is positively refreshing after trying to wade through the acclaimed Japanese literature of recent years! Notice how simple and unassuming the prose is, contrary to other contemporary work that doesn't make it over here for good reason. Of course, this novel has accessibility going for it. Main character Toru Watanabe is practically immersed in Western imports: he is reading "Magic Mountain", Conrad, Euripides, or Boris Vian, etc. with very scant reference to any Japanese work. Which makes it a relatively easy port to English and the translation loses little.
The main strength of the book I think is the atmosphere that it creates; it is truly one of a kind, more rarefied in effect than Salinger to whom this book owes certain similarities (Toru is likened to Holden at one point). It is a world where sex is narrated often but with cleanly wantonness, a world where time is stagnant and politics recede far to the background (Midori's quip about Marxist-poseurs in a university is exquisite - also shows Toru's apoliticalness, unfortunately very common in Japan), and above all a world where men and women are disarmingly honest about life, sex, and how they truly feel. Now except for the last item, the mindset is not far removed from that of a young contemporary Japanese, like me, which explains the popularity. Many people in Japan condemn Murakami for writing "fluff", but this is not true. Afterall, the core moral is stated in the very beginning of the book, that death is a part WITHIN life and not outside it (curiously Japanese sentiment from a most un-Japanese writer - check Ivan Morris' "Nobility of Failure"), and the book is his attempt to come to grip with this unconsoling truth. That, certainly, is not a trivial lesson to live with and you will live through it, all of it, from enervating boredom down to sexual agony, with Toru.
In conclusion, this book, then, is for readers who are willing to see their own life reflected in the somewhat distorted but wonderful mirror of Murakami's making. Afterall, isn't this the mark of a great novel?
Oh, and to that reviewer who was so surprised by the unpuritanical ethics in a Japanese book: if reading anything by Tanizaki or the first few pages of Kawabata's "Snow Country" (why is he sniffing that finger?) doesn't convince you, consider any chapter of the Genji, or the nastier love-letters in the Man-yo Shu (the bit about the "bag" he will wear until next he sees her). The clincher is the story in Konjaku Monogatari about a man who masturbates with a suggestive looking vegetable and his daughter eats it and ... well, you take it from there. Prudish ethics has never was a forte of good Japanese literature.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Mirror for Readers, April 8 2002
By 
PseudoDionysius (Bloomington, IN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
This is my second Murakami book. The first was his Akutagawa prize winner from a while ago that did not leave enough of an impression to imprint the title in memory.
But now, this book is positively refreshing after trying to wade through the acclaimed Japanese literature of recent years! Notice how simple and unassuming the prose is, contrary to other contemporary work that doesn't make it over here for good reason. Of course, this novel has accessibility going for it. Main character Toru Watanabe is practically immersed in Western imports: he is reading "Magic Mountain", Conrad, Euripides, or Boris Vian, etc. with very scant reference to any Japanese work. Which makes it a relatively easy port to English and the translation loses little.
The main strength of the book I think is the atmosphere that it creates; it is truly one of a kind, more rarefied in effect than Salinger to whom this book owes certain similarities (Toru is likened to Holden at one point). It is a world where sex is narrated often but with cleanly wantonness, a world where time is stagnant and politics recede far to the background (Midori's quip about Marxist-poseurs in a university is exquisite - also shows Toru's apoliticalness, unfortunately very common in Japan), and above all a world where men and women are disarmingly honest about life, sex, and how they truly feel. Now except for the last item, the mindset is not far removed from that of a young contemporary Japanese, like me, which explains the popularity. Many people in Japan condemn Murakami for writing "fluff", but this is not true. Afterall, the core moral is stated in the very beginning of the book, that death is a part WITHIN life and not outside it (curiously Japanese sentiment from a most un-Japanese writer - check Ivan Morris' "Nobility of Failure"), and the book is his attempt to come to grip with this unconsoling truth. That, certainly, is not a trivial lesson to live with and you will live through it, all of it, from enervating boredom down to sexual agony, with Toru.
In conclusion, this book, then, is for readers who are willing to see their own life reflected in the somewhat distorted but wonderful mirror of Murakami's making. Afterall, isn't this the mark of a great novel?
Oh, and to that reviewer who was so surprised by the unpuritanical ethics in a Japanese book: if reading anything by Tanizaki or the first few pages of Kawabata's "Snow Country" (why is he sniffing that finger?) doesn't convince you, consider any chapter of the Genji, or the nastier love-letters in the Man-yo Shu (the bit about the "bag" he will wear until next he sees her). The clincher is the story in Konjaku Monogatari about a man who masturbates with a suggestive looking vegetable and his daughter eats it and ... well, you take it from there. Prudish ethics has never was a forte of good Japanese literature.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A uniquely personal and touching novel from Murakami., April 7 2002
By 
David J. Gannon (San Antonio, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Written between Hard-Boiled Wonderland and Dance, Dance, Dance, Norwegian Wood is a very different sort of novel for Murakami.
Set in Tokyo and in a mountain sanatorium in the late sixties, it is, one suspects that this is a very autobiographical, Murakami's gentle protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. This is the story of a college student, Toru Watanabe, trying to find himself, to grow up, to make a commitment to someone, and to be true to that commitment.
The choice of the song Norwegian Wood as a title is appropriate, especially regarding the song's little known subtitle (take a look at the Rubber Soul album and you'll see it), This bird has flown.
Watanabe once had (and was had by) two girls, one of whom is sliding slowly into complete mental disintegration, (this would be the bird that has flown) the other - feisty, independent, but as desperately lonely as Watanabe - lodging the claims of love, life, and a warm body against those of past pledges-pledges Watanabe views somewhat differently than the girl in question.
... First of all, this is an early effort-one would expect a bit of a shortfall in the sophistication department given Murakami's age when hr wrote it. More importantly, however, is the subject matter. This is a story of personal introspection about a romance-not about the alienation and anomie inherent to complex, inhumane, technocratic societies. Of course the elements of style Murakami would impose on these two radically different subjects is different.
At it's core, this is a tale of loss. Watanabe ends up losing his love in various ways and to various degrees throughout the book till she's finally totally gone in the end. The book is about how Watanabe copes with these various elements of loss.
I can understand why some fans of this author would find the book disconcerting as it is well outside the typical structure of a Murakami novel and the effects of this departure, given the extraordinarily distinct style Murakami normally utilizes, seem magnified over what would be expected from a more mainstream author. Don't let such comments dissuade you from reading this novel. I greatly admire Murakami's other work and liked this as well. It's a book that can be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone willing to accept it for what it is rahten than impose their own expectations on it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ido no soko ni, March 23 2002
By 
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
You know a book is good when it sells so many copies it shocks the author into moving halfway across the world.
It's not the selling a whackload of copies, it's the fact that Murakami was appalled that the book he called an "experiment" became his most popular work.
If you've never read any of Murakami's novels before, then you won't understand how entirely -different- Norwegian Wood is from them. Murakami is a guy who writes about strange women with magic ears, men possessed by malevolent sheep, evil politicians with magical powers of defilement, teenagers who push their boyfriends off motorcycles, and cybernetic mind control. The last thing one would expect from him is a pure and simple love story, but here it is, and fortunately or unfortunately, it is one of his most intriguing and skillful works.

The story's pretty easy to understand, but the layers of meaning are not. Murakami's fascination with wells might zoom right over the heads of readers who are either unaccustomed to his narrative, or aren't paying attention to metaphor.
Essentially, Norwegian Wood (yes, named after the song by the Beatles) is a love story, but one with unexpected twists of fate, tragedy, comedy, and stuffed with melancholia. Murakami might not write a very convincing 20-year old, but the slight over-maturity of the main character's voice can be ignored in favor of the insights he gives.

I wouldn't reccomend reading this book first if you're seriously interested in Murakami's works, it's not the best to represent his style. But if you aren't up for TV people or walking through walls, then read Norwegian Wood.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simple Beauty, March 16 2002
By 
"wickedlollies" (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
...
I could not get my head out of it. It's so simplisticly beautiful because of Murakami's fantastic writing. The story just flows. His realistic approach to the story line, the characters, the situations, the emotions and occurances that evolve are very touching, in a way where the reader can relate to, or draw from happenings in their own lives or others they know of. And I feel it's that reality that will draw a reader to a book, and specifically to Murakami's writing in 'Norwegian Wood'.
It tell's the story of a young man, Toru, growing up in a 1960's Tokyo, and his life amongst falling in love, unusual friendships, passion, lust and loss.
The story sparring a over a few years only, the reader feels so strongly for Toru, and his mishaps in falling in love, and his emotions that come through it. Naoko, Toru's first love, was introduced through his best friend Kizuki. Both Naoko and Kizuki introduce a new element to the story line I havn't really experienced before, one of real emotional confusion, not really knowing where you stand, where Toru seems to try to be differentiating between what's real in relationships, and what isn't, what's real in the world, what isn't, and why things happen for the reasons they do.
This is furthur seen after some time at university, when Toru meets Midori, a girl who is in only one of classes. She literally marches into his life, and is a charater with fabulous depth, life and thought, and she really throws it to Toru, who makes him realise what kind of a person he is, where in the world they sit, how to be real, and what love, interest, passion and real emotion is. Toru is really tried to choose between what has happened in the past, and what will happen in the future.
All these emotions that he feels are fabulous, because the reader can relate to so many of these, if you're a younger reader like me, 18, you can relate because you're experienceing them now. You want to know what's going to happen. You want to feel what they feel, You want to experience it, or you want to experience it again. And you love the fact that you may not be the only one feeling it. For older readers, live it again. Live the feeling of wanting to express to your first love how you feel, the crazy uncontrollable hormone levels, those first moments of sharing something new, the awkwardness that many young adults have.
"Evocative, entertaining, sexy and funny; but then Murakami is one of the best writers around." Omer Ali, Time Out.
Could not be better said! Murakami is fantastic. And this is the reason why I just let myself fall into the book, and I will be again when I go to buy another of his books tomorrow! Definently definently recommended for anyone who loves life, the feeling fo desire, passion, intrigue and in that amazing imagery.
Just simply beautiful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best thing Murakami's ever written, Jan. 26 2002
By 
M. Packham "Stuart" (Perth, Western Australia Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Norwegian Wood is easily the best thing Haruki Murakami has ever written. It is so beautiful and poetic, so rich in emotions and realism, so touching and so haunting. The story of a man choosing between a love of his past and a love of his future, Norwegian Wood carries a tremendous wave of emotions in such subtle and simple prose. That is the gift of Murakami; the music of his words. Beautiful and rich, his novels are always exercises in minimalist literature - Norwegian Wood is no different. Each passage in the novel trembles with symbolic possibility, adding to the emotions already stirred by his characters, who are, as constructed by Murakami, afloat in a world devoid of a point or purpose. They live with death, with loss and with idiosyncratic problems; they must also, however, live in a world crazier than themselves. It is established in the novel that a mental rest home is saner than the outside world. Perhaps the best way to describe this novel is as a bleak, tragic love story mixed with black comedy. For its entirety it travels smoothly and easily, becoming increasingly more intriguing and compelling, right up until the devastating denouement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Isn't it good?, Jan. 23 2002
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
"Now... I realize that all I can place in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories of imperfect thoughts." This is how Haruki Murakami, through the voice of his noble narrator Toru Watanabe, begins "Norwegian Wood". It is a poignant beginning; one that brings into question the factuality of all that follows, but not necessarily the feeling.
This is the second of Murakami's books that I've read. The first, "A Wild Sheep's Chase" lost me in its allegorical approach to the existential detective novel. "Norwegian Wood", while a much more straightforward and accessible a narrative, is no less complex.
Although written in Japanese, you'd never know it. Jay Rubin's translation is seamless, capturing Murakami's easy dialogue effortlessly. The writing really shines through. As do Murakami's rhetorical techniques, which include using personal letters to get past what would be a lot of lengthy exposition. Usually I find this technique distasteful and lazy, but Murakami's letters are so skillfully economical and honest (not to mention woven consistently into the narrative) that I found it to be a rather effective technique. And his powers of language are staggering, so much so that he manages to make tired cliches seem robust. He even trumps the saccharine 'box of chocolates' simile from "Forrest Gump", coming up with an analogy of his own that is not only clever, but also relevant and original.
It also helps that for Western audiences, Murakami is unexpectedly accessible, as American music and American literature dominate his thoughts. This gives the novel (like all of Murakami's novels, from what I understand) an almost paradoxical feel for Western readers. I found myself skipping along, feeling as if the story was set in Berkley during the late 1960's, but then every once and a while Japanese culture will jump up; after a touch of vertigo, you realize just how transcultural the East has become.
Another of the novel's major themes, and definitely its most powerful, is the notion, often repeated, "death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life." Watanabe appears to have the Midas touch; only when he comes in contact with people, they don't turn to gold, they die. Sometimes it feels like Murakami is chronicling the genocide of a sensitive subculture of 1960's Japanese youths. Fortunately, death is never exploited. Well, sometimes it's used as a device to jumpstart the narrative, but Murakami has such sensitivity in his writing that it never feels cheap.
Murakami's greatest feat is his spare recounting of college dormitory life. It's rendered realistically, providing a setting for much of Watanabe's ennui. He even notes at one point that college is nothing more than a "period of training in techniques for dealing with boredom." Luckily, Watanabe gets a lot of mileage out of the people he meets in his dorm. A fastidious roommate, a lecherous friend, and others provide a menagerie of minor characters who revolve around the story's periphery, reflecting back at Watanabe certain aspects of his personality that he may not want to see.
In Watanabe, Murakami has created a terrifically grounded narrator. He is frank and plainspoken, to such an extreme degree that the people he knows keep commenting on it. He lacks pretension and ego, while constantly in a mode of observing. In many senses, he is a perfect narrator. Thankfully he fulfills that duty, because as a character you'd almost never notice him. He goes through periods where he's a cipher, and then through periods where his low-key charisma inexplicably attracts a number of beautiful, iconoclastic girls. It appears that you have to be tuned to a specific, underground radio station to really appreciate Watanabe. He's like a secret club that only attracts people who are "kinda weird and twisted and drowning". I dug him.
The bulk of the novel is taken up with Watanabe's relationships with two of these weird and twisted characters.
Midori, a fellow student, is a whirlwind of unbridled curiosity and unchecked ego, especially when the topic is sex. She's also funny, charismatic, sad, immature, dramatic, passionate, and highly emotional. She challenges Watanabe, and is successful in bringing him out of his shell. I found myself rooting for Midori to be the one that Watanabe chooses for love; but in the end Murakami makes you realize that love is not a voluntary thought, and that the "choice" is never that easy.
Instead, Watanabe is obsessed with Naoko, the girlfriend of his dead best friend. Their love affair is always tenuous, and kind of creepy in its necrophilia. Naoko is tortured and troubled and sad. It's hard to decide if she never really loves Watanabe, or is just incapable of love. Murakami never provides easy answers when dealing with her situation. In that way she becomes not only the most real but also the most frustrating character in the book. What does Watanabe see in her? I'll never know, but I certainly recognize his reactions to a transcendent feeling.
Naoko also provides the book's title. She loves the Beatles' song 'Norwegian Wood' because it "can make me feel so sad. I don't know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I'm all alone and it's cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me. That's why Reiko never plays it unless I request it." Reiko, Naoko's roommate, in a typical moment of wit, comments that it "Sounds like Casablanca!" This is typical Murakami: positioning gentle emotional epiphanies against modern, pop-culture obsessed observations. It's a style that certainly makes this book, on the surface morbid and forlorn, addictively readable.
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Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Paperback - Sept. 12 2000)
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