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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.


Grade: (B)


See also:

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: The Running Novelist: Learning how to go the distance. (Haruki Murakami, June 2, 2008, The New Yorker)
-ESSAY: Haruki Murakami Asks Himself, Who Do I Write For?: From Murakami’s New Essay Collection Novelist As Vocation (Haruki Murakami, 11/09/22, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became a Novelist: At a Baseball Game in 1978, The Writer Who Almost Wasn't (Haruki Murakami, June 25, 2015, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: Haruki Murakami on the Year Dave Hilton Debuted for the Yakult Swallows: “It felt as if the spring sunlight shone more intensely around him, and him alone.” (Haruki Murakami, April 5, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: Jazz Messenger (HARUKI MURAKAMI, July 8, 2007, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Haruki Murakami on Cold Beer, Nothingness, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Haruki Murakami, October 21, 2022, Interview)
    -INTERVIEW: Haruki Murakami, The Art of Fiction No. 182 Interviewed by John Wray, The Paris Review)
-INTERVIEW: Haruki Murakami: 'I've Had All Sorts Of Strange Experiences In My Life' (Petra Mayer, 4/06/21, NPR)
-PROFILE: Haruki Murakami’s latest novel is an expansion of a story he started over 40 years ago. (Emily Temple, April 17, 2023, LitHub)
    -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)
    -ESSAY: When Murakami Came to the States: In his rigorous new book, Who We’re Reading When We’re Reading Murakami, David Karashima examines how Haruki Murakami came to be one of the most beloved writers on the planet. The excerpt below chronicles the U.S. publication of Murakami’s first book to appear stateside, A Wild Sheep Chase. (David Karashima, September 23, 2020, Paris Review)
    -PROFILE: Why Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s new book – a rewritten, expanded version of one of his stories from 1980 – took him 35 years to start (AP, 15 Apr, 2023
-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,
    -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)
    -REVIEW: of First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami (Bernard Cohen, SCMP)
-REVIEW: of Novelist As a Vocation by Haruki Murakami (Sean O'Hagan, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Novelist as Vocation (Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Novelist as a Vocation (Robert Allen Papinchak, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Noverlist as Vocation (Rumaan Alam, The Nation)

    -FILMOGRAPHY: Haruki Murakami (IMDB)
    -ESSAY: Murakami Bingo: Is Animation the Ideal Form for Adapting the “Undadaptable” Author?: A Survey of Murakami Reimaginings, from Burning to Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Ryan Bedsaul, May 18, 2023, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Murakami in the Movies: Only a few directors have managed to suggest the delightful incongruities of Haruki Murakami’s fiction. (Colin Marshall, May 4, 2023, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: Norwegian Wood (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)

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