The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Haruki Murakami’s Japanese novel ‘Norwegian Wood’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 08•13

MurakamiNorwegianHaruki Murakami is Japan’s best-selling novelist, and he’s a master of description and psychology. Norwegian Wood (1987, ISBN 978-0-099-55454-7) is a masterfully told coming-of-age story in which a number of students attempt to find their way in a complex world, buffeted by personal relationships, hormonal onslaughts, and the complex factors involving transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

Make no mistake, the characters are practically all emotional trainwrecks, but for us here at WoWasis, it was a bittersweet reading, as it caused us to reflect on our own actions when we were the age of the people who make up most of this narrative. We made many of the same mistakes, especially concerning relationships we’ve had with people that contributed little but sorrow to our lives, and yet, driven by youthful compulsions, were unable to avoid. As Murakami so skillfully writes, those relationships always seemed to have enough blue sky in them that the dark clouds were somehow always overlooked. Mature readers will no doubt look back on their own lives, happy that they’re no longer 20.

The young intellectual Watanabe is the protagonist, and the star-crossed Naoko is his major love interest. He journeys with her through her path to a sanitarium, waylaid along the way by Midori, a self-centered siren who alternately teases and professes her love for him, and Nagasawa, a worldly student on the fast-track to a career in international diplomacy. Plenty of other characters appear along the way, perhaps none as compelling as Reiko, an older woman who shares the room in the country retreat along with Naoko. Reiko’s story of being seduced by her female thirteen year old piano student is chilling.

Japan-290x200There are plenty of deaths in this tale, and seemingly, no one gets by unscathed. Except perhaps Reiko, who being a decade older than her friends, has, by the time the book ends, appears to be finding her own place in Murakami’s turbulent world. The songs she plays on her guitar include the title song of this book, and her musical acumen provide an arty vehicle through which the action progresses. She was our favorite character. The book is a masterpiece of psychological fiction, and we recommend it. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

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