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Norwegian Wood October 9, 2005

Posted by ayasawada in Books.
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Described by some as ‘one of the greatest writers of our generation’, Haruki Marukami comes to me with a rather hefty reputation. I am certainly drawn to anything from Japanese culture, but I did not expect to discover such a deeply personal, remarkably affecting novel. Let me clear the deck by saying straight off: I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Norwegian Wood starts of Prost like, with the beat of a Beatles tune evoking strong, overcoming memories in the protagonist, Toru Watanabe. It takes him (and us) back to the late 60s, back to University and a time of uncertainty, discovery, intellect, sex, alcohol and overwhelming love. If this sounds rather cliched, then the book’s great achievement is to make it not so. Maybe it is the Tokyo setting that makes the urban city a bit more exotic, different from a thousand coming-of-age novels. Indeed, Watanabe has an air of Holden Caulfied about him, which the author concsiously acknowledges. Murakami has said that he simply exaggerated his own experiences and the intimacy with location and books certainly shows that. But how much of the emotion is his? That’s part of the wonder.

The most striking thing about the novel is how incredibly relaxing it is. This is an effortless read, not because it’s dumbed down, but because it is from the heart (thanks to a wonderful translation by Jay Rubin). Murakami pours his intellect into the material, but it never gets in the way. It is never awkward or flashy. I’m afraid this is one of those novels that gives some people a ‘life-changing experience’. It could certainly be read as profound in places, but it is insight through truism rather than eloquence. In fact, the most resonating quote for me is a blindingly obvious bit of advice: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself, only assholes do that”.

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1. Anonymous - October 15, 2005

Murakami is great, and Norwegian wood is amazing. Also read “sputnik sweetheart”, and “south of the border, west of the sun”! /Johan N-P


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