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Having tried to read some of Mr. Murakami's more experimental fictions with little success, and not being much of a fan of the Beatles, I didn't head into this novel with terribly high expectations. But critics said it was a more straightforward novel than the rest of his oeuvre and he seems certain to win a Nobel eventually, so this seemed the best entry into his work. This one, at least, proved worth the read.

Despite borrowing a plot device from Proust--the narrator, Toru Watanabe, hears the song of the title and is carried back two decades to his college years in Tokyo--the style here is conventional and the plot of the book is you classic coming of age tale. Toru relates his emotional entanglements and sexual escapades with a number of women, set against a backdrop of student rebellion in late '60s Japanese colleges. The particular focus is on his ill-fated affair with Naoko, the former girlfriend of his best friend, who committed suicide. Naoko too is suicidal and has relocated to a pastoral asylum after a brief romantic interlude with Toru.

He tries to fill the gap that she and his friend left behind by going out womanizing with a fellow student and entering into a relationship with Midori, another fellow student. She has a boyfriend at the outset, but one thing leads to another.

Meanwhile, on visits to see Naoko, Toru is befriended by her roommate, Reiko, an older woman prone to psychic breaks herself. Together they try to rebuild Naoko, to no avail. Then they too get involved, if only briefly.

Mr, Murakami tells his story beautifully, packs it with eroticism, and shadows it with dread. On the other hand, one does tire of every single sexual encounter Toru has being the greatest moment in a woman's life and the sense that every single character could kill him/herself at any time gets kind of exhausting. The ultimate effect of all this obsession with sex and suicide is to make modern Japan seem little more than a bundle of pathologies. And while the grown-up Toru never tells us anything about his current life, it seems obvious that it must be pretty empty. For all his desire, as a young man, to do the right thing and not to hurt the women he became involved with, there's a certain hollowness to his character that keeps us from truly liking him and renders the tale more pitiful than tragic.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

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Asian Literature
Haruki Murakami Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Haruki Murakami
    -WIKIPEDIA: Norwegian Wood
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Haruki Murakami (IMDB)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE: Norwegian Wood
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Norwegian Wood
    -ESSAY: Jazz Messenger (HARUKI MURAKAMI, July 8, 2007, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW: Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182 Interviewed by John Wray, The Paris Review)
   
-PROFILE: How Murakami Helped With the ‘Norwegian Wood’ Film ( Barbara Chai, 1/06/12, WSJ)
    -PROFILE: The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami (SAM ANDERSON, October 21, 2011, NY Times Magazine)
    -PROFILE: The lone wolf : Beloved in the West, scorned by Japanese literati, Haruki Murakami tries to make his own world, a realm of jazz and rhythmic writing. (Ben Naparstek, 6/24/06, The Age)
    -PROFILE: The loneliness of Haruki Murakami (Shaun Tandon, 27 Mar 2006, iAfrica)
    -PROFILE: Haruki Murakami - outside looking in (Sam North, HackWriters)
    -ESSAY: Nihilism or Nonsense?: The Postmodern Fiction of Martin Amis and Haruki Murakami (Wendy Jones Nakanishi, 5/08/06, electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies)
    -ESSAY: Translating Murakami: The author doesn’t want to be a celebrity, but that may not be up to him (LIZ C. GOODWIN, 11/03/05, Harvard CRIMSON)
    -ARCHIVES: murakami (Harvard Crimson)
    -ARCHIVES: Haruki Murakami (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Salon Topics: Haruki Murakami (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES: Times Topics: Haruki Murakami (NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (Janice P. Nimura, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood and Underground (Steve Poole, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (Damien G Walter, guardian.co.uk)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (George Tysh, MetroTimes)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (Alison Kim, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (The Book Stop)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (The Kugelmass Episodes)
    -REVIEW: of Norwegian Wood (BlogCritics)


MOVIES:
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Haruki Murakami (IMDB)
    -FILM REVIEW: Norwegian Wood (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)

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