Book review: Norwegian Wood

Hakone, JapanWhen results for the 2013 Nobel Prize for literature was announced last Friday, I was disappointed to learn that Haruki Murakami did not win it (again) in spite of being the hot favorite in the run up to the competition (again!). A big congratulation to Alice Munro for bagging the prestigious award this year, though I am certainly still hoping that my all-time favorite Japanese author would one day win a Nobel.

I had recently finished “Norwegian Wood,” one of the early Murakami books that became popular in Japan, following the narrator Toru Watanabe and his nostalgic remembrance of his college life in Tokyo. In spite of the lack of distinct crescendos, I found that the plot slowly grew on me with in a quiet and overwhelmingly sad way through Toru’s quaint, nostalgic memories.

When I discussed with a Japanese friend about Murakami, he told me his books are too dark for him, but it is precisely because he attempts to discuss about humanity’s most sinister and weakest moments without the sugar coating that draws readers in. Norwegian Wood, as with most of Murakami’s works, has themes of loneliness, sexuality and loss all presented as a matter of fact to readers.

Below is my favorite quote from Norwegian Wood and listen it together with the Beatles similar titled song:

“I had learned one thing from Kizuki’s death, and I believed that I had made it a part of myself in the form of a philosophy: “Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.”

By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sadness we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness, can cure that sorrow. All we can do it see that sadness through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sadness that comes to us without warning.”

13 thoughts on “Book review: Norwegian Wood

  1. Hi Jie,
    today I stumbled across your blog and it immediatly fascinated me so I took my time to read some of your posts.
    I really enjoyed reading them and was a pleasure to notice that we have a lot in common talking about literary tastes.
    I choose to comment on here because Norwegian Wood it’s the book I choose to start my own blog and to thank you for sharing such valuable content. I wanted to read your blog before. You are such inspiring, Thanks!

  2. I was also disappointed that he didn’t win. I’m a huge Murakami fan, and Norwegian Wood is my favorite of his. Also, I think he deserved to win, and I’m not Asian, so clearly not xenophobic XD I can’t believe someone actually said that…

    1. The plot is pretty slow and calm without any major ripples, but I think that’s exactly the beauty of Murakami’s writing in Norwegian Wood. It seems to make a point about how death and loss can be translated into something peaceful and quiet.

  3. I absolutely love “Norwegian Wood.” and yes, it was of course terribly sad, but the whole thing was written so beautifully and realistically that the sadness felt enlightening, not contrived.

    1. And the sadness also felt inevitable as a result of how the plot progress, in a way that makes readers feel helpless towards the plight of the characters.

  4. I was sad too (though I love Alice Munro)! I’ve read every Murakami book and am greedily awaiting his next book. I was at an event in New York the other other night and Chip Kidd said that he’s currently working on the US cover (he did the 1Q84 design as well); I can’t wait to see it. What’s your favorite Murakami book?

    1. Coooool! I’m also looking forward to Murakami’s next book since it’s initial release in Japan and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Till date, my favorite book would be 1Q84, a long novel no doubt, but brilliant at shifting between different characters, topics and themes.

  5. I think you may be exert so slightly xenopophobic, being Asian, that is. It’s time for a Canadian. Are you SURE you’re not just a tad prejudiced, or just a tad jealous? The good news is that therapy today can help you work through feelings of inadequacy.

    1. Hi there,

      I don’t think I am trying to be xenophobic or compare Haruki Murakami with Alice Munro. In fact, this post has nothing to do with nationality nor race becuase there is without a shred of doubt that Munro is a wonderful and fantastic author who deserves the prize. What I am saying is that in spite of all the pre-Nobel expectations, Murakami has once again failed to bag the award, which is disappointing for most of his fans including myself. And I do love literature work from Canadian authors such as Margret Atwood and Dionne Brand.

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