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The Book Cafe

Norwegian Wood

A Novel by Haruki Murakami

Courtesy of Goodreads

Norwegian Wood is the second Murakami book that I have read. The first one was Kafka on the Shore. I was looking for a second book to get into when I landed on Norwegian Wood. I understand that it is a bit of a departure from his other books, but that is ok because I really loved Norwegian Wood. It was not what I was expecting, but it was perhaps better than what my expectations were. It is essentially a love story of a young man coming of age in Japan in the late 60s.

In Chapter one, Toru Watanabe hears the strains of the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood, as he lands at an airport in Hamburg, Germany. This song recalls to his mind the loves story of his youth in Tokyo when he was attending college. The rest of the novel tells that story.

In the telling, Murakami evokes the sights and sounds of the turbulent 60s, the songs of the period, the student unrest, and the pangs of falling in love. He has created some unforgettable characters, who by the end of the novel, we feel emotionally bonded to and care deeply about.

Spoiler alert!

There are five deaths in the novel, four suicides, and one illness. But the way Murakami tells it, they are played “off stage” and are referred to rather than happening on the page. This gives a little emotional distance from the deaths but never the less has a powerful impact. When Toru got word of Naoko’s suicide in the last chapter it was like a punch to the gut. I literally let out an, “Oh no!” and went on reading. I don’t usually cry at novels but this was an exceptionally gut-wrenching moment.

I started off by saying this was a love story, and so it was, but I think it was more a book about loneliness, mental illness, and suicide. But Murakami is such a beautiful writer the way he presents his story is not depressing, but quite beautiful and poignant. I truly loved this novel.

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