Isn't it good, Norwegian Wood?

Before I continue to write about Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, let me just say that I may have read a lot of novels, this is the first Asian novel/author I've read, save for Philippine works.

And that really, I miss beauty products posts but my hands seem to reject typing them. I guess I must get them book posts out of the way before I move on.


I'd have to admit that I haven't read a Murakami novel prior, yet I find myself recommending this author's works to just about anyone I know. Back in 2009, I gifted a friend with his book Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman without having the chance to read it before giving it to her. I was eventually glad to have given her this choice, for she seemed to have liked it so much, she then told me she was the seventh man, of which I'd have to conduct my research on.

For now, let me share with you my thoughts on Norwegian Wood, something that I will describe, given only a few lines would be: It's like eating Japanese cuisine: raw and healthy.

Somewhere between 'not enough' and 'not at all.' I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it --- to be fed so much love I couldn't take it anymore. Just once. But they never gave that to me. Never, not once. 
 Midori

You see, the book is about Toru Watanabe, a thirtysomething writer traveling to Germany. He hears the Beatles song Norwegian Wood as the passengers deplane. I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me. And then he was catapulted into his rewound life, some 17 years ago, when he was 20 and just as we would have predicted: He uses this as a point to retell the story.

Toru has always been in love with his bestfriend's girlfriend, Naoko. Kizuki, Naoko's boyfriend and Toru's bestfriend however, takes his own life. Naoko, unable to cope up with the sadness, confines herself into a sanatorium and Toru moves on with school, meets a playboy-type Nagasawa, where he learns the ways of the world, swapping girls, drinking, and being smooth. He meets Midori, a spunky girl whose family owns a bookstore while eating lunch. Midori sparks a healthy competition in the life of Toru, as she poses to be the girl at the other end of the spectrum. She was completely the opposite of Naoko --- she was liberated {she asked Toru if he could please masturbate to the thought of her, even if she had a boyfriend}, she was confident, and she was strong

Love is baffling, indeed. I saw no reason why Naoko couldn't let go of her fears and join Toru in the real world. She loved Toru {despite him thinking she never loved him when he was middle aged}. She did not try to hold him back and to suck him into her world of depression, only asking for him to remember her always. Still, it was painful to read through them knowing they both wish their combined happiness to exist: but she wouldn't do anything to help herself. 

I admit that the foremost reason why I had picked up this book was because of the implied scene in my head, where the male protagonist pines over the female {protagonist} Naoko. In my head, I thought it was a book chronicling his love for her, with chapters depicting how he eventually got over her and so and so. I have hoped and predicted that I will be cheering for the troubled, sad and perennially depressed Naoko. Time and again, I have always had a soft spot for troubled characters whose favorite song is The Beatles' Norwegian Wood, but no, not this time.

{Next part contain spoilers}

When Kizuki died and Naoko succumbs into a deep depression, to the point of quitting school and running away from Toru, I sort of understood. People deal with grief and mourn differently so that was okay. Then she confines herself in a remote sanatorium and after what seemed forever, writes to Toru. I couldn't understand then why she was still so depressed {I mean, all of us have lost someone at some point}. Until then, she told Toru about her sister, who also killed herself. At this point, I even apologized to Naoko's character for thinking she was some brat who needed to grow up.
That song can make me feel so sad. I don't know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I'm all alone and it's cold and dark and nobody comes to save me. That's why Reiko plays it unless I request it.
Naoko, on why Norwegian Wood is her favorite song

Kenichi Matsuyama as Toru Watanabe and Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko

There is so much loss that the characters go through in this book and everyone who lives is a collateral damage residue of some sort. Kizuki starts the suicide, followed by a long mourning period for Naoko. Naoko reminisces about Kizuki's and her sister's death and turns to set off into the forest, too, to kill herself. Hatsumi, Nagasawa's prim and proper girlfriend who lives through Nagasawa's womanizing kills herself eventually. It's a vicious cycle of loss and grief and how people choose to cope up with it ---- or not.

Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life. It’s a cliché translated into words, but at the time I felt it not as words  but as that knot of air inside me. Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a pool table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.

Overall, I really liked the book, despite how harrowing reading about Naoko has become. Being the object of the entire book, of the title and of Toru's desire, love and affection, I could not understand why she must retreat to herself and lose patience in living in the real world. I have said it once, and I'll say it again: It's a disservice to be unhappy for the people who make us sad or unloved, to the ones who are real, alive and happy for us. Midori, another character who lost her mother, and her father, later in the story, says it quite well. "Let me just tell you this, Watanabe. I'm a real, live girl, with real, live blood gushing through my veins. You're holding me in your arms and I'm telling you that I love you. I'm ready to do anything you tell me to do. I may be a little crazy but I'm a good kid, and honest and I work hard, I'm kinda cute, I've got nice boobs, I'm a good cook, and my father left me a trust fund. I mean, I'm a real bargain, don't you think?"

Kiko Mizuhara as Midori

Midori might have been needy like someone I know IRL, and could be irritating and vulgar but she lived. And she stood by Toru. Yes, she was hungry for love and that doesn't justify her whiny-ness but she stood up and she stood strong. She has lost two people in her life, too, just like Naoko. Even more sad is that the way that her parents were eaten up by a brain tumor (as opposed to Naoko's sister and Kizuki committing suicide) is far more draining, physically and financially.

But anyway. I don't know why I am so angry at Naoko. I guess I just hate people who quit and end it. For me, there's just no way around it, no excuse for quitting. And to be loved, weaknesses and all, you gotta be something. I guess I just did not see it.


But I loved Toru and Midori nonetheless, because they have the cutest conversations of all:

Midori: How much do you love me?
Toru: Enough to melt all the tigers of the world into butter.

“I broke up with him. Just like that.” Midori put a Marlboro in her mouth, shielded it with her hand as she lit up, and inhaled.

“Why?”
“Why?’!” she screamed. “Are you crazy? You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that? Why do you even have to ask? Why do you have to make a girl say something like this? I like you more than I like him, that’s all. I wish I had fallen in love with somebody a little more handsome, of course. But I didn’t.

I fell in love with you!”

Overall Recommendation: Murakami writes so darn vividly, that despite the flawed characters {yes, that would be Naoko}, I have enjoyed reading this book. It climbed up as one of my top favorites for that reason, because I have imagined myself in wintry Japan, eating sushi and riding bullet trains. I've never known life in Japan, other than what I have read about it sometime in 2000s through Time Magazine, and movies such as The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha, and I am glad to have caught a glimpse of 1960s Tokyo. More than identifying with Midori or Naoko, I have seen an emotional semblance with me and Toru, who values solitude and despite external influences, scrambles to define his own moral lines.

“You enjoy solitude?” she asked, resting her cheek on her hand. “Travelling alone, eating alone, sitting by yourself in lecture halls …”

“Nobody likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.”

Despite the story set in the 1960s, I find that it's incredibly real. The conversations are funny, warm and sincere. There were no lines that seem to have delivered by someone high-strung, no awkward sentences. Midori's character treats sex as sex, even asks Toru, in an albeit early part of their relationship, to think about her when he masturbates. Toru retells stories of his roommate Storm Trooper to Naoko, Reiko and Midori and they always have laughs from it. There's a certain endearment that can be gleaned from the way everything was told, a certain quietness. Then again, the version I read is a translated version by Jay Rubin and who knows how Murakami really writes. In Japanese and how?

If you will be reading this, I highly advice that you be prepared: there's a lot of teenage sex, promiscuity and loss. If that doesn't bother you, then this is one of a rollercoaster ride of a book. I've read it twice already since I got it and soon, I will read it again. It's a beautiful coming of age story, about dealing with loss, with love, with dealing with someone who's not yet ready to love you and finally being able to follow your heart. It would have been great to read it in its original format {Japanese} but I don't want to wait till I get up on my feet and take lessons and eventually understand. English has always been my foremost romantic language, I'll make love to it if I could. And reading this felt like a warm soul that stays with you through the night. It's beautiful, there is no way around that.

Oh and here's the trailer of the movie, just in case. *hoping it gets shown here*


Have you read this book? What's your take on it?