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Norwegian Wood [Paperback]

Haruki Murakami
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 12 2000 Vintage International
First American Publication

This stunning and elegiac novel by the author of the internationally acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has sold over 4 million copies in Japan and is now available to American audiences for the first time.  It is sure to be a literary event.

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 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.

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Product Description

From Amazon

In 1987, when Norwegian Wood was first published in Japan, it promptly sold more than 4 million copies and transformed Haruki Murakami into a pop-culture icon. The horrified author fled his native land for Europe and the United States, returning only in 1995, by which time the celebrity spotlight had found some fresher targets. And now he's finally authorized a translation for the English-speaking audience, turning to the estimable Jay Rubin, who did a fine job with his big-canvas production The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Readers of Murakami's later work will discover an affecting if atypical novel, and while the author himself has denied the book's autobiographical import--"If I had simply written the literal truth of my own life, the novel would have been no more than fifteen pages long"--it's hard not to read as at least a partial portrait of the artist as a young man.

Norwegian Wood is a simple coming-of-age tale, primarily set in 1969-70, when the author was attending university. The political upheavals and student strikes of the period form the novel's backdrop. But the focus here is the young Watanabe's love affairs, and the pain and pleasure and attendant losses of growing up. The collapse of a romance (and this is one among many!) leaves him in a metaphysical shambles:

I read Naoko's letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with the same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it.
This account of a young man's sentimental education sometimes reads like a cross between Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women. It is less complex and perhaps ultimately less satisfying than Murakami's other, more allegorical work. Still, Norwegian Wood captures the huge expectation of youth--and of this particular time in history--for the future and for the place of love in it. It is also a work saturated with sadness, an emotion that can sometimes cripple a novel but which here merely underscores its youthful poignancy. --Mark Thwaite

From Publishers Weekly

In a complete stylistic departure from his mysterious and surreal novels (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; A Wild Sheep Chase) that show the influences of Salinger, Fitzgerald and Tom Robbins, Murakami tells a bittersweet coming-of-age story, reminiscent of J.R. Salamanca's classic 1964 novel, LilithAthe tale of a young man's involvement with a schizophrenic girl. A successful, 37-year-old businessman, Toru Watanabe, hears a version of the Beatles' Norwegian Wood, and the music transports him back 18 years to his college days. His best friend, Kizuki, inexplicably commits suicide, after which Toru becomes first enamored, then involved with Kizuki's girlfriend, Naoko. But Naoko is a very troubled young woman; her brilliant older sister has also committed suicide, and though sweet and desperate for happiness, she often becomes untethered. She eventually enters a convalescent home for disturbed people, and when Toru visits her, he meets her roommate, an older musician named Reiko, who's had a long history of mental instability. The three become fast friends. Toru makes a commitment to Naoko, but back at college he encounters Midori, a vibrant, outgoing young woman. As he falls in love with her, Toru realizes he cannot continue his relationship with Naoko, whose sanity is fast deteriorating. Though the solution to his problem comes too easily, Murakami tells a subtle, charming, profound and very sexy story of young love bound for tragedy. Published in Japan in 1987, this novel proved a wild success there, selling four million copies. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Top Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting June 21 2001
" '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
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the opposite, but a part of Nov. 17 2007
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 but spent most of his youth in Kobe. "Norwegian Wood" was first published in Japan in 1987, and first translated into English in 2000.

Toru Watanabe tells the story, looking back on his days as university student living in Tokyo. His circle of friends was very small, and he appears to have always been a fairly solitary type. Originally from Kobe, Toru only had one real friend at school - Kizuki, who committed suicide at seventeen. He went on to university in Tokyo, where he largely appeared to keep to himself. There, he did - briefly - have a roommate at his dormitary - though the pair had very little in common. (Toru's roommate is known only as "Storm Trooper" in the book, a nickname gained through his obsession with sanitation). Nagasawa, a diplomacy student at the university, was more an acquaintance than a real friend. He was very intelligent, and came from an influential family - he took Toru under his wing after the pair discovered a common love of "The Great Gatsby". (No-one else in the dorm had any interest had any interest in the classics). Nevertheless, they did little together other than drink and chase women.

Toru's two key relationships, however, were both with women. One was Naoko - a Beatles fan and the very delicate one-time girlfriend of Kizuki.The pair meet up again in Tokyo, roughly a year after Kizuki's death and start spending more and more time together. Eventually, Toru falls for Naoko and, on the evening of Naoko's twentieth birthday, things get intimate. Unfortunately, the evening proves a little difficult for Naoko to deal with and she takes off - booking herself into a sanitorium in an attempt to deal with her difficulties.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Japanese existentialism at its best June 26 2007
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Here are five good reason to take up this book:
A. The story offers a very pungent insight into the pressure-cooker environment of modern Japanese society, with all its time-honored traditions and taboos. In the rush to succeed in an overly competitive society, many of the main characters like Toru and Naoka either self-destruct or withdraw because of their glaring inability to control the situation at hand as they climb the mystical ladder of success;
B. The story provides a titillating plot full of adventure, suspense,loathing and uncertainty, as the characters move in and out of various sexual relationships;
C. You, the reader, get to peer inside the minds of youth as they grapple with the big moral issues of the day;
D. The author captures the futility of life as bound up in the individual seeking to become established in a society that is always in transition with no time for reflection;
E. The title "Norwegian Wood" befits the storyline very effectively. Toru's frustrations at not being able to form a permanent relationship are captured in that classical line, "And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown."
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Read this book before on my kindle. Decided to buy a paper copy to keep.
Published 18 hours ago by Yuanhang Wu
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Not a bad entry point for starting Murakami. A little easier to digest than Windup Bird or Hardboiled Wonderland.
Published 3 months ago by poprad99
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It is a really nice book
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An important staple for all those who want to read and understand the genius that is Haruki Murakami.
Published 5 months ago by Bartosz Scheller
4.0 out of 5 stars Love the way Murakami writes
Love the way Murakami writes. Very detailed and it really gets you into the novel. Sometimes, though, I found it a bit slow but I generally I liked it and enjoyed it.
Published 11 months ago by Catalina Moreno
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
not his best
Published 13 months ago by A. Strickland-clark
4.0 out of 5 stars but in general I liked the book and the style of the author so ...
A little dark and depressing at some points, but in general I liked the book and the style of the author so much that I did not hesitate to buy another one of his books.
Published 18 months ago by Ebrahim
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book
This novel impressed me with its dramatic tranquility and profound ideas about life and death. Mastery of the narrative and excellent translation makes this book outstanding. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Alexander Tumanov
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've ever read and incredibly deep
One of the best books I've ever read and incredibly deep, passionate and thought provoking. Also the most approachable of all of Murakami's novels. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Bowen Cheung
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing read
This book is an amazing book it helps you think of life an where it's going. You see troubling things thou and it's a rocky journey reading your way through one page to the next. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2014 by Hjort mann
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