By Anya Pan
Haruki Murakami’s critically acclaimed 1987 novel Norwegian Wood is a story about love, existence, death, and ultimately, a youth’s coming of age.
Having loved his more recent novel Kafka on the Shore, I knew that the book that propelled him into literary stardom was something I would enjoy. Norwegian Wood centres around a simple yet meaningful plot: Toru Watanabe, a young university student in 1960s Tokyo, finds himself in love with Naoko, the enigmatic and introspective ex-girlfriend of his dead high school best friend. The two see their relationship evolving alongside dimensional characters, such as the effervescent Midori who falls in love with Toru in parallel, finding themselves haunted by the tragic suicide of someone they both loved.
Murakami’s whimsical, elegiac prose evocatively sculpts a profound story about first love and loss, sexuality, and self-discovery steeped in the hazy ethos of the 60s. The author frequently draws from Western literature and art, with references to music and books submerged in the story. Unlike Kafka, Norwegian Wood is without the author’s infamous talking cats, metaphorical ghosts, and mystical prophecies; however, the subtle charm of Murakami’s writing keeps this book an otherworldly read, even without his signature magic-realism flamboyance. The charm of Murakami’s writing lies in his effortless yet refined prose, entering the reader into a dream-like sequence at the turn of a page. The author manages to draw the reader into an ethereal and wistful reverie through his specific yet faraway descriptions, creating a fuzzy world as if viewing the characters through a distant, sepia-tinted lens.
By Anya Pan
Readers of Norwegian Wood will find themselves enraptured in a story of fated misfortune. Toru and Naoko’s story is destined from the beginning for an eventual parting; Naoko’s flighty nature towards the responsibilities of life contrasts directly with Toru’s serious, straightforward personality. Toru’s nostalgia in his reminiscence of Naoko clearly illuminates the storyline for the reader—in a way, the impending understanding is what makes the reading experience so beautiful; the sorrowful, longing tone of the story even in its sexual context allows the reader to experience and better understand the changes and growth the characters experience as they experiment within themselves and others.
For me, with my own imminent experience with ‘growing up’, Norwegian Wood is an insightful and relatable read. I identify with all the characters—Naoko’s struggle with belonging in the world, Toru’s sense of indirection in his life, and Midori’s vivacious yet lonely personality. As students heading down the path towards adulthood, these are all issues we will inevitably grapple with as we grow. Our collective journeys of transformation are embodied viscerally in this book. I know that this book will be a perspective-shifting, astutely profound read for everyone embarking tentatively on their changing trajectories.