Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
After having read a half dozen or so Murakami books, a fellow avid Murakami reader pointed out I had gone about reading his work in the wrong order and suggested that I should drop whatever else I was reading and start all over again with Norwegian Wood. I’m glad I did go back to the first book which made Murakami such a big literary sensation in Japan. And after reading this novel, I can see how Murakami’s work has evolved considerably over time. In comparison say to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood is a simple coming of age story simply (and brilliantly) told. Toru is a young college student in Tokyo who’s days are mostly occupied with going to class and observing life in his campus dorm. He is also in love with Naoko who was once the girlfriend of Toru’s best friend, who’s suicide has brought the two of them closer together. But when Naoko, having trouble dealing with daily life, retires to the isolation of a mental health clinic, Toru starts feeling lonely in her absence and comes to meet Midori, an uninhibited and independent-minded young woman who seems to embody the spirit of the freewheeling late 60’s, and he quickly finds himself irresistibly attracted to her.
There are no tricks here, no mysterious magical forces at play, no spies dressed as cats lurking in the corners. What we do find is a vivid account of the years 1969-1970, it’s music (the book is named after the Beatles song which is mentioned several times in the story), it’s energy and the upheavals the times brought about, Tokyo-style. It’s a sad story with many insights on relationships, connections and loneliness told in Murakami’s magic style, in his unique voice which bring a tinge of excitement to everything he touches upon. If you’ve heard about Murakami and are curious to discover this phenomenal writer, this should be your first stop.
I enjoyed it thoroughly but do have a special fondness for Murakami’s multilayered and intersecting worlds found in some of his later books which is why I gave it ★★★★½