August 13, 2009

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

BOOK #: 65
REASONS READ: Take a Chance Challenge, New Authors Challenge, Japanese Lit 3 Challenge
GENRE: Literary Fiction; Japanese Literature

Murakami has been one of those authors that I keep wanting to try and never seem to get around to, so I was pleased when I discovered that my random library book for the Take a Chance Challenge happened to be Norwegian Wood. I could tell three-fourths of the way through the book that this was not only a great book, but I would probably like Murakami's other books too if the writing style was the same. I now know I was right at least on this book.

Norwegian Wood is an interesting twist on both a love story and a coming of age story. The bulk of the story takes place in 1969-70 when Toru Watanabe is a young college student. He deals not only with normal college problems such as classes, exams, dorm life, and working a part-time job, but also student strikes at his university as well as the recent death of his best friend a few years ago. His friend's girlfriend, Naoko, and he share a special bond as they lean on each other. However Naoko soon finds that she is not coping well in life and goes to live in a special community in the mountains after losing her virginity to Toru on an emotional night. Toru visits her whenever he can because of his friendship with her, but also because he loves her and has promised to look after her. Meanwhile, back in Tokyo, Toru has also met a college student named Midori who is unlike anyone he has ever met. This book takes the reader into the middle of a first love and all of its complications.

I loved the character of Toru. I loved that he was fiercely loyal to himself and did not change to fit in with the crowds but went his own way and did what he needed to do for himself. I loved that he was intelligent, empathetic, and both a dreamer and a doer. I identified with Toru a lot because my own first love was one filled with loss, caretaking, and self-discovery at exactly the same age as Toru is in the story.

I really enjoyed Murakami's writing style. It was active and engaging and the descriptions were so vivid I felt I was actually there. So much so, in fact, that when Murakami describes Midori's dying father in the hospital I was immediately transported back to my own dying father's hospital room and situation and had a lot of trouble reading this part. It was all of maybe 10 pages of the story, but her father's mannerisms, needs, and looks were so much like my father's that I burst out crying while reading it. I have read stories about people dying since my father's death, but none of them were so absolutely vivid in their detail that I felt I was re-living those few months he was sick. Murakami definitely gets an A for description.

Even with my emotional outburst in the middle of the book, I had fun reading this story; I really enjoyed it. I cared about what happened to the characters in the book and I thought that it was just a really good character-driven plot. I will definitely be reading another Murakami book for the Japanese Lit Challenge 3.

FYI: There are some detailed sexual scenes in this book.

Other Reviews of Norwegian Wood:
Ramya's Bookshelf

If you have reviewed this book or another a book I have reviewed, please leave me a message or comment and I will add your link to my post.


  1. This book sounds very emotional and well-written. I can definitely see how you connected to the characters and the story.

    Great review! Murakami sounds like a wonderful writer.

  2. The last sentence should read "there are many detailed sexual scenes in this book" :)

    Love your review - had very similar sentiments when I was reading it, with respect to his descriptions and style of writing.

    Am sorry to hear about your father, and offer my condolences. I found myself tearing up when I read that part of the book - my dad had taken seriously ill a couple of years ago, and anything to do with hospitals and parents just makes me want to withdraw in a shell.

  3. Thanks for your review. I've always wanted to read Haruki Marukami's books too. May be now I will put one on my library list.

  4. Murakami scares the living daylights out of me, and I don't know why. Maybe he's just so often presented as enjoyable if you can get through his prose. I have Kafka on the Shore on my list to read, but am still too scared...

  5. This sounds beautiful. Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention!

  6. I love books set in other countries - this one sounds good because it's about something we can all relate to. Great review.

  7. I've been wanting to read Murakami for a long time. great review!

  8. I liked this book, too. I also like when Murakami gets more magical, like in Kafka on the Shore or The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.

  9. I've only read After Dark by this author, but this sounds like a good one. I MUST read more by him. thanks

  10. I'm glad this challenge brought the author and book to you -- even though it caused you some emotional pain. I'm sure that is not a place you wanted to revisit but I hope it was cathartic for you.

  11. thank you for this very helpful and interesting review. I will read this book during the Japanese Challenge along with Wind up Bird Chronicles.


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