Norwegian Wood is the book that launched Japanese author Haruki Murakami from a mid-list author to international stardom and bestsellerdom, not just in his native Japan, but throughout the world. With its unique combination of western world references and influences combined with the story of growing up in Japan, its success forced the author to leave Japan and live in Europe for some time. It can best be summed up as Murakami’s Catcher in the Rye for Japan.
Norwegian Wood is a change from Murakami’s more well-known and expected dark and mysterious novels – usually involving some form of magical realism – featuring a down-to-earth story with some very unusual and special characters. Toro is working his way through college, growing up in the late sixties, and Murakami seems to pulling a little from his own college years here, with the interesting details about Toro’s strange and overly-neat roommate, along with the growing animosity of the students on campus. Toro’s closest friend killed himself when he was a teenager, and now his late best friend’s girlfriend – Naoko – has come back into his life. As they meet and discuss and deal with the loss, their relationship grows and develops, yet Naoko is still having a very hard time dealing with what happened to her psychologically, as well as dealing with the world.
Told from Toro’s first-person perspective, it seems that Toro is the only grounded, “normal” person in the book. But as the reader gets further along, they realize that Toro has his own problems and issues that he has been hiding. Then there are his few strange friends, who would certainly not be considered normal by any means, not to mention the eccentric girls he meets up with; some he befriends, others he never sees again.
Norwegian Wood is about a boy becoming a man during the sixties in Japan, educating himself through college, and learning about love and life through relationships and choices. It is an entertaining and moving story that also has a number of life lessons hidden within its pages.
Originally written on November 20, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.
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