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on February 13, 2004
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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on March 16, 2002
...
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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on February 7, 2001
When a Japanese friend presented this book to me, implicitly urging me to read it, I was naturally skeptical. I don't pick up a book just because someone has recommended it. When I hesitated, she gave it back to me without a word. The simple, resolute force of her presence demanded that I read it. I started the book very grudgingly. Little did I know how deeply I would feel for this book when I was finished.
This is one of the very few books I wanted to reread immediately after finishing it. I simply did not want it to end. The book may be finished in one sense, but it still haunts me, just as Toru remembers Naoko.
The quality of Murakami's writing is so exquisite that it is the literary equivalent of "making it look easy." Some reviewers have commented on the simplicity of the story, but there are so many layers of emotional complexity and genuine depth that the illusion of simplicity is truly deceptive.
When I learned what became of Naoko late in the book, I was so shocked that I had to put the book down for a while. While it may have been expected, Murakami reveals it so bluntly that it took all the wind out of my sails. His expert timing caught me at an especially vulnerable moment. By that time, I realized how closely I had bonded with these characters. I identified with these people as though they were my own college friends.
I was moved by this story in a way I've never felt from any other novel. I won't be able to listen to the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" again without thinking of Naoko, Toru, Reiko, Midori, and everyone else.
I can't bear to part with "Norwegian Wood," even though it belongs to someone else. I will patiently wait for the Japanese-style two-volume set of the same translation. ...
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on January 9, 2003
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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on May 17, 2004
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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on September 22, 2000
True, the earlier translation by Birnbuam was very good. A kind of lie is being generated by the media and the publisher. In fact, Norwegian Wood, which is by far Murakami's best work ever, and a milestone in Japanese literature, was translated into English before and attracted many fans. Me, too. But the publisher decided that releasing WOOD in the early 1990s would not be good for Murakami's career in the US, (read: reviews and sales), because they wanted to develop his image first with his other books. Which they did. But it is not true to say the Haruki didn't authorize a translation before or that there was legal action problems. No, it was a pure marketing move by the editors in Japan and New York, and it was dishonest. Fans have been waiting for years for this book, and it is a real crime to have kept the book back under the pretense of publishing poppycock. That said, let Murakami someday tell the truth in an interview (he will, he will); meanwhile, read the book. It is by far the greatest piece of Japanese literature in the last 50 years and if you really want to understand the Japan that is today Japan, read this book...and weep. Murakami got it right. His publishers should confess to the public and stop this marketing PR spin. Give us a break, Haruki! So, yes, five stars, ten stars, this book will go down in history as Murakami's best!
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on October 2, 2000
I have to admit straight out that Murakami is one of my all time favorite authors. I've read all of his available books including the tightly wound "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." Just about all his previous books are complex in terms of the almost supernatural events that seem to take place, switches in time periods, and other narrative oddities. In one sense, this is the most "normal" of Murakami's books in terms of narration, but it would be a mistake to think it's less complex. Yes, it's a lyrical and moving love story, but the writing is so exquisite and the characters so endearing (Reiko, Naoko and even Storm Trouper will stay in my mind for a long time) that when it ended, I went back and started reading again from the beginning. It's been a long time since a book compelled me to re-read right away.
I don't think the parallel is unfounded with Magic Mountain -- Murakami's narrator just happens to be reading it while Naoko is trying to get through her emotional despair in a sanitorium of sorts. Like Hans C., no one seems to really get better and time seems to slow to a stop during the scenes in the home. Some of the most touching scenes take place during Toru's visits to Reiko and Naoko. Toru is such a gentle and human character -- we experience real sensuality through his interactions with other women. Maybe it's Murakami's perfectly controlled prose that makes this such a work of art. It is so beautiful that it will make you cry. These characters are so real, it can be frightening at times.
This book is a good introduction to Murakami because of its surface simplicity, but anyone who enjoyed it should run out and buy his other books which are also terrific. Although I like Mishima too, I think Murakami is the greatest living Japanese writer. Don't miss this one.
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on January 23, 2002
Having read most of Murakami's other works before reading Norwegian Wood, I was pretty surprised to read a fairly simple, realistic romance. Although Murakami denies that this is autobiographical, one can't help but think that he based it somewhat on his own experiences. Despite the different mood of the book, I believe that it would be a mistake to consider this book unrelated to his other works, as character traits of Watanabe, Midori, and Co. are found in many of Murakami's other works. Midori's spunk and directness in particular can be glimpsed in a lot of Murakami's later characters.
As for the book itself ... although Norwegian Wood is supposedly a love story, I had a hard time seeing tender or romantic qualities in our protagonist. Like many of Murakami's characters, Watanabe is at heart a realist, and a bit more selfish than the average Murakami "Everyman". He has sex with pretty much every woman in the story so I had a hard time buying into his "love" for Naoko (he seemed more focused on her sexual prowess than her mind anyway). I couldn't disagree with Nagasawa's drunken observation that Watanabe was like him in that he was incapable of truly loving anyone. Even when he declares that he can't do without Midori and never wants to be without her again, he goes and leaves her for a month after Naoko kills herself. He even sleeps with Naoko's middle-aged roommate, Reiko. Watanabe's ideals went out the window once he had a chance to take his pants off. When Naoko died, I found myself wondering if his sadness was because she died or because he lost a sexual outlet. I couldn't help but feel that Naoko's gentle beauty was lost on him. The older, wiser Watanabe that we start the book with seems to think along the same lines, but unfortunately, we lose his insight just a few pages into the book.
Norwegian Wood was an interesting read and likeable book, but not really the great literature Murakami's capable of. Norwegian Wood was written around the same time as Banana Yoshimoto's "Kitchen" and I think it would be fair to make comparisons between the two. That's not meant to be a knock on either story. Murakami himself said he wanted to do something different in writing this book, which he certainly did. A good book, but probably not among Murakami's greatest.
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on April 8, 2002
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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on February 17, 2003
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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