Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Four days have passed, and I'm gonna be writing a new Murakami review again. Yep, I'm going over and over about how I'm still stuck in it... but now, it's over. I'm finally FINISHED with Norwegian Wood. :))

I remembered how an online friend of mine kept going over and over this novel, and it sparked my curiosity. I started reading his works, they intrigued me, they crept me out, they wierded me -- but the bottom line is: I LIKED IT. And before I knew it, I became a Murakami convert, making him one of my most favorite authors. Having read two of his published books, one a novel (Sputnik Sweetheart) and one a collection of short stories (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman), Murakami never failed to capture me. Reading his works has become like a drug -- after reading so much, instead of becoming tired of it, I felt like I wanted more. And so, I bought a third HM book.

Before I bought this book, I've heard so many things about it. Publishing this book in Japan made Murakami somewhat a 'literary superstar' in his country. Out of all his works, i think this is the first and 'only' normal novel he has written. Normal in a good kind of way. If you've read at least one or two of his works (novel ora short story), surrealism is a distinct theme in all of them. So I was sooo excited to see a different side of his writing.

This stunning and elegiac novel propelled Haruki Murakami into the forefront of the literary scenes (and onto the Japanese bestseller lists) and showed that the master genre bender could tug at our heartstrings as effectively as the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood."Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual obsession 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 magnificent blending of the music, the mood, and the ethos that was the sixties with the story of one college student's romantic coming of age, Norwegian Wood brilliantly recaptures a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love. (via Goodreads)
Norwegian Wood is a novel that centered in death and the feeling of loss related to it. It follows Toru Watanabe's stuggle to go on in life as his past kept holding him back. Ever since the sudden death of his bestfriend, Kizuki, he has been haunted by the incident.. even prompting him to move out of town, and continue studying where no one really knows him and what happened in his early years. However, when he met Kizuki's long time girlfriend, Naoko, everything changed. He and Naoko share this distinct connection, being left alone hanging by the most important person in their lives. They began to see each other more often, until the incident that happened on Naoko's 20th birthday. Naoko was admitted in an hospital in the mountains, leaving Toru on his own. In the days that he seeks human companionship, he found himself drawn to Midori. The book  chronicles the struggle Toru has in figuring out his feelings for the two ladies, as well as figuring out himself.

"Death  is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life." ~ Haruki Murakami // Source

I must admit, the overall tone of the novel has been too depressing for me. Though I like myself an emotional read, reading it became unbearable at times especially when I need some motivation to go on with my studies. >.< Hehe. The fact that I can really relate and how I am too similar to the characters that took their own lives or committed suicide was becoming too creepy I'm almost fearing for myself. LOL. But joking aside, suicide is very rampant in the whole novel.  So if you can't really tolerate such negative emotions all at once, this book is not for you.

The characters in the book was another thing. Besides Toru, the book has a lot of interesting characters that I've grown to love. Naoko, which forms one third of the triangle that the book focused on was a timid, shy woman who was clammed up in innocence as she struggles to free herself in her past and everything that's holding her back. Same with Toru, but in a more serious way. And then there's Midori. I love her. In a story where negativity is all over the place, having a character like her is a breath of fresh air. For me, she provides the balance in the whole story. She's  liberated,  refreshing. She's like a sunshine in an otherwise gloomy day. But one of the characters's I've enjoyed reading in this book is Toru's friend, Nagasawa. He had this unique way to deal with the world. I love his ideals, and some times, I agree with him. I enjoy how his mind works, and how he tends to make living less complicated. And there's also Reiko, Naoko's roommate in the 'asylum'. Her story was something really tragic, and one that really stuck with me.

"My arm was not the one she needed, but the arm of someone else. My warmth was not what she needed, but the warmth of someone else. I felt almost guilty being me." ~ Toru Watanabe

It topped Sputnik Sweetheart on my list, for i think that this is the most emotional writing from Haruki Murakami that I've ever read. The way Toru weighs in between life and death. How he lives in the past, never seeming to escape it but wanting to. How the words were weaved, and sentences formed, and I cried. The melancholic recollections were almost too raw. The way he came to terms with what he is feeling, letting go of all the guilt that has bundled up inside him. Though what he did in the ending somewhat irks me off, but I guess you can't help it coz the situation asks for it.

Midori appealed to me too, the way she's written. I love her letter to Toru, especially the line: "You're all locked up in that little world of yours, and when I try knocking on the door,you just sort of look up for a second and go right back inside."

(Taken with instagram)
Additional Thoughts:

  • Though the ending was a little bit vague, and I was a bit thrown off, I'd like to think that it was some kind of a liberation. Though it left me questioning... I think that when Midori asked him where he was and he suddenly found himself unable to answer as if alienated out of the blue -- that represents that after all those years since the death of Kizuki, he was finally able to get away. Makes me feel that he just dragged himself to live all his life, without him realizing that he has been left out by the times. That when he looked up, he had no idea at all where he was because he wasn't able to see things as they are for the past years since his bestfriend died. Thus, when he is freed, and when he chose to start living in the present and leave his past, it felt kinda strange.It's just that its somehow contradicts with the opening of the book where he supposedly been brought back by the emptiness he felt (guilt?) when he heard "Norwegian Wood" playing, Naoko's supposed favorite song -- implying that he still can't get away from Naoko's memories.
  • Naoko wanting Toru to never forget her, for me, was selfish. Not that I blame her, because it would be really nice if someone always remembers you. But she should be more considerate of Toru's feeling. Just look what never forgetting Kizuki has done to him. I don't know...
  • I especially loved Toru when he said this: "Hey, there, Kizuki, I thought. Unlike you. I've chosen to live -- and to live the best I know how. Sure, it was hard for you. What the hell, it's hard for me. Really hard. And all because you killed yourself and left Naoko behind. But that's something I would never do. i will never, ever turn my back on her. First of all. because I love her, and because I'm stronger than she is. And I'm just going to keep in getting stronger. I'm going to mature. I'm going to be an adult.Because that's what I have to do. I always used to think I'd like to stay seventeen or eighteen if I could. But not anymore. I'm not a teenager anymore. I've got a sense of responsibility now. I'm not the same guy I was when we used to hang  out together. I'm twenty now. And I have to pay the price to go on living." To understand the amount of responsibility he is assuming when he took Naoko, and never running away from it. You go, man! That was something. I am twenty, and I don't think I can think like that (at least, not for now.. hehe).

This book cover is just breathtaking. I have the paperback edition featured at the top, though. // Source
Over all, this book was so moving. The imagery was so vivid, sometimes I feel like I am trapped in its world.  I'd like to think I am. A poignant story about life and love, I recommend it to all who wants to experience one precious emotional ride.

Fast Facts:

  • The title was based from the song "Norwegian Wood" by the fab four, The Beatles. It was heavily featured during the whole story, because it was Naoko's favorite song. I am currently practicing it in the guitar. Hehe.>.<
  • The whole book is somewhat an extension of Murakami's short story, Firefly. The first section of the novel was mainly adapted from the story. Firefly can be found in the Murakami's short story collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
  • Toru's recollection of when he and Kizuki visited Naoko in the hospital was told at more length in the short story Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
Quotable Quotes:
"No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth,no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it,but what we learn willbe no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning." ~ Toru Watanabe


  1. I told you!! YOU'LL LOVE IIIT!!!! I'm so glad you've shared that Midori part!!! hahaa THAT LETTER is so awesome!! :) Love love Murakami! :))

    1. yeah right. I was sooo looking forward to that letter because you mentioned it to me, and I'm not even a tad bit disappointed. I love that letter too. And Midori. :))

  2. Very nice review, I just finished this book last night and I'm still in awe at the ending he chose for it. I've only read two of Murakami's books including this one and I'm certainly now a declared fan. :)

  3. nice to meet another Murakami convert! welcome to the club. :)

  4. Norwegian Wood is definitely my favorite book and Haruki Murakami is my favorite author. You should try reading Kafka on the Shore, it's his second best for me.

  5. i recently bought a copy! thanks though. now i'm more excited to read it. :)

  6. Hi Riza,

    Just happened to stumbled upon your review :). I finished the book last night and i agree with a lot of the points you made. I'm glad i'm not the only one who kind of liked Nagasawa haha.

    i definitely agree with your analysis of the ending: "That when he looked up, he had no idea at all where he was because he wasn't able to see things as they are for the past years since his bestfriend died. Thus, when he is freed, and when he chose to start living in the present and leave his past". Exactly the same way i felt too.

    I've read 5 murakami books in the past 2 months and my personal favourite is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, you should check it out if you haven't already!

  7. hi daniel!

    i'm really glad you agree. :) it's just weird...because everytime i reread NW's ending.. i have this vague sense that it is telling me something different. every single time. the murakami effect, i guess.

    i've already read Wind-up and finished it just recently. check out my review at .:)

    thanks for commenting! :)

  8. hello friends

  9. Hi Riza,

    I've so far read three of Murasaki's books (The Wind up Bird Chronicle [My personal favorite], 1Q84, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki) and he's definitely becoming one of my favorite authors. Like you, I'm kind of addicted to his works and want to read more! After finishing colorless Tsukuru Tazaki I wanted to a differnet authors work, but after reading your blog I'm definitely going to read Norwegian Wood next! :D

    Once I finish reading it, I'll let you know what I think! I'm sure I'll love it! :D


  10. Sorry for the very very late reply. Lol. Let me know i'f you've posted something about NW anywhere. Let's discuss it. Thanks for dropping by! :)


Thanks for dropping by! I'd love to hear from you -- so don't think twice, just comment below and let's talk! If you're feeling like it, you could also link up and I'll make sure to visit your site if you have one. Much love, ~ R. :)


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