Norwegian Wood is a novel I have revisited several times. It's become a tradition to read it every year of my high school career. Each year, the book changes with me. As I gain new insights, this nostalgic story finds new meaning. Originally published in 1987, Norwegian Wood sold 3 million copies across Japan within its first year. It went on to be translated into over 40 different languages. This was the novel that transformed Murakami from a struggling artist into a major commercial success.
The story revolves around Toru, a 19 year old student, and his relationships with the people he meets in his college life. Set in 1970’s Tokyo during the education reform movement, readers share the experience with Toru and other students as they fight for their right to an education. Toru falls in love with a young woman named Naoko, whom he has known since high school. She is stuck in the past but still manages to smile. Around the same time Toru meets Midori, a woman who is the polar opposite of Naoko.
The majority of characters in Murakami’s work are college students and other people in transitional periods in their lives. Murakami is fascinated with the magic of this stage of life, and with recalling his own memories of that time. His stories are fueled by his passion for music (especially jazz). While reading Norwegian Wood, you can feel the rhythm of Murakami’s words and the melody of the story. Beautifully constructed sentences with vivid adjectives will strike your curiosity. Murakami’s ruminations on death are profound, and describe it in such a way so that it does not destroy you, but rather makes it clear. He creates a world that is so easily accessible, even to those of us who know next to nothing about Japanese culture.
Murakami’s ability to authentically capture the feeling of adolescence in this melancholy rights of passage love story has led the book to be dubbed the Japanese Catcher In the Rye. If you are new to the magical and mysterious world of Murakami, I would highly recommend starting with Norwegian Wood.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop