Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Watanabe is a Japanese youth studying at a University in Tokyo. He has two girlfriends Naoko and Midori. Both are unusual, suffering from depression, and need help to recover and Watanabe is the friend who they trust. He is worn out between these two, grows up from the experience, loses one and settles with the other.

Naoki is introduced to Watanabe by a childhood friend of hers who commits suicide in his youth. That puts Naoko into emotional trouble. And Naoki has this in her blood too as her younger sister also had committed suicide for psychological problems. She is put into an unusual hostel which serves as a home for those suffering from emotional issues and it helps bring together through many activities and teaches them to help themselves. Watanabe as a close friend of hers offers help and attempts to fill in the confidence in her to come out and face the external world. He finds that is he is deeply in love with Naoko. Reiko, another patient at the hostel, is a roommate of Naoko. She has an ear (and hands!) for the music and “Norwegian Wood” is one of the songs she plays on her guitar. Though herself a patient, she is another source of strength for Naoko in getting better. Three spend good time together when Watanbe visits the hostel. And there is hope that Naoko would get better and become normal.

Top Left: Haruki Murakami Right: Stills from movie adaptation of the novel
Midori is another student in Watanabe’s class. She is attracted to him for his unusual, serious and sincere behavior. She is going through difficult phase in her personal life as she had lost her mother recently and her father too is on the deathbed. Watanabe turns out to be a true friend for her understanding the situation she is into and supporting her while she gets through the difficult times. A bond develops between them and that turns into love.

Watanabe has to choose between Naoko and Midori and seeks guidance from Reiko on this matter. He learns from Reiko that Naoko could not get better and committed suicide. That news comes as a shock for Watanabe and he travels alone to unknown places to find peace with himself. Finally he recovers from it and connects with Midori.

What starts as a usual, predictable plot takes many twists and turns. It explores many strange human characters. The novel is more about those who are not normal but very sensitive and emotional and who can’t bear the pains which normal people would tolerate and get over it. This novel is also full of descriptions of the characters having drinks and casual sex and this theme recurs throughout the book and makes the novel more dramatic.

Though this novel has autobiographic tone, its author Haruki Murakami clarified that it is not his biography and his personal life is lot boring. It is believed that Norweign Wood is one Murakami book that “everyone” in Japan has read.