With Norwegian Wood, Japanese author Haruki Murakami made his break-through in Japan in 1987. This worldwide bestseller with over thirteen million copies sold even reached the younger generation of Japan, something Murakami had not been able to do with his previous books. So what makes this novel so popular?
The surrealism and magical realism themes, that are always present in Murakami’s novels, is not found in Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森). This is a true coming-of-age story that touches the topics of loss, sexuality and love – topics that Murakami had yet to approach in-depth in his other works. The story revolves around our main protagonist Toru Watanabe who is reminiscing his university years in Tokyo in the 60s. His best friend Kizuki committed suicide when he was 17, leaving Toru and Kizuki’s girlfriend behind. You read about how quiet and serious Toru deals with the loss of his best friend, but also the feelings he starts developing for Naoko, who is struggling living with the remembrance of Kizuki and is slowly sinking into a serious depression. While Naoko is retreating into her own world more and more, Toru meets outgoing Midori who shows his a different way of living life.
What makes this novel so gripping is that the problems and feelings presented are relatable for an audience of both young and old readers. Toru’s road to maturity is shaped mainly by the tragic events he encounters in life and the way he, and others around him, deal with those events. Even if you cannot identify with Toru, this story has all sorts of ways to reach you personally. The downwards spiralling mental stability of Naoko makes you rethink the effect death can leave you with, and Midori’s vitality makes you remember the freedom and careless you felt when you were young.
Norwegian Wood is best recommended to readers who want to become more familiar with Haruki Murakami’s writing style, as the surrealism is his other novels can be off-putting to some. This powerful story was loosely based on Murakami’s life and also exposes a different side of Japanese society, such as the depression and doubt Japanese youth struggles with.
Author: Haruki Murakami
ISBN: 9780099448822 (Vintage)
Number of pages: 389