Book Review

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

“And when I awoke, I was alone, the bird had flown. So I lit a fire, isn’t good, Norwegian wood?               – The Beatles

Back in my super evangelical days, pious believers would steer clear of ‘secular’ music because of its temptation to lure. I remember asking some of the older ladies why they were so against secular music. The answer: the Devil used to be the Angel of Music, and that’s his favorite tool to corrupt souls.

I’m not making this up. A real modern day person actually spoke these words to me.

And while I believe this to be utter bull, I understand it on some crazy level. Music is powerful. For me, music doesn’t corrupt, but enliven and unleash. Many a time, there is no way to express how I was feeling with words, but the right song spoke to me and everything I was holding in was set free (usually followed by lots of tears).  

I think it’s nonsense to believe that the Devil is behind my love for Beyonce, but I do understand how people can be baffled by the sway music has over us.

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Norwegian Wood starts with this power, as Toru is transported back to the past by the book’s namesake. Toru is taken back to a memory from eighteen years ago, the most vivid memory he has of Naoko, the girl he loved. Toru realizes that he is slowly forgetting Naoko and finally decides to write about their time together.

The story begins with tragedy as both Toru and Naoko lose a loved one, and the novel explores how we deal with death. Or in most cases, how we don’t deal, and push it aside instead.

Even though I would prefer more magical realism (I know, I know, Murakami was trying to do a ‘straight’ novel), I was still moved by the writing and enjoyed the journey.

The subjects Murakami focuses on are universal and help bridge the cultural divide (along with generational divide, as the novel is set in the late sixties). From death to first love; from dealing with mental illness and finding one’s way in life.

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The only element that really hurt my experience was the character of Midori. I know that there’s plenty of Midori fans out there, I’m so sorry, but she really annoyed me. There are a few types of characters that I have a hard time with and one is definitely the manic pixie dream girl.

I do give Murakami credit because Midori is more developed than most that fall in this category. Her arc with her father did help to humanize her and she was tolerable up until the last sixty pages or so. But ultimately I was interested in the stories of all the people Toro interacted with except Midori, I always had a hard time getting through her sections of the book.

I understand Midori’s purpose to the narrative, as she is the opposite of what Naoko represents, I just wish she wasn’t so damn annoying.

Aside from Midori, I really like Norwegian Wood and understand why this novel is a staple in Japanese literature. I would highly recommend this novel to those who want to read Murakami, but are unsure about magical realism. I would just advise that the book has a slower pace and there’s graphic sex talk. Definitely an eighteen and up type of book, not just because of the descriptions but also the content is mature.

One last note: THAT ending! The last paragraph is beautiful and I’m already planning my next trip to Murakami land.

Score: 7/10

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