Sunday, October 30, 2011

Norwegian Wood

Sadness is indeed a very complicated emotion. It has the uncanny ability of dissolving the edges of reality surrounding you and immersing you completely in an alternate world, where only you and that feeling exist together in complete harmony. And nothing else matters. You luxuriate in the richness of its beauty and marvel at the tranquility it offers you.
Haruki Murakami's, Norwegian Wood evokes exactly similar kind of emotions in the reader.

There are some books you read, which leave you with stories-bitter, exciting, adrenaline-driven, romantic, depressing or grisly. And then there are books which leave you with feelings. Norwegian Wood, most definitely, belongs to the second category.
And in my opinion, it is infinitely easier to deconstruct a story in a review rather than the feeling it leaves you with. But here's an attempt anyway.

Norwegian Wood is a beautifully sad yet incredibly sensual tale of unfulfilled love where the central characters are, in all essence, broken individuals.
In a most indolent manner, the book begins with our narrator Toru Watanabe, catching the strains of an orchestral version of The Beatles' 'Norwegian wood' on a flight to Hamburg and beginning to reminisce about a certain girl named Naoko, from the days of his youth in Tokyo. From hereon, the story is told as a flashback, as a sliver of memory that the 37-year old Toru has carefully preserved or perhaps is struggling not to forget.
Majorly the story revolves around the trials and tribulations of the 3 key characters - Toru, Naoko and Midori.

Toru, a reserved young college student, is shown to be somewhat anti-social, not quite opening up to others as easily as others open up to him. There is a sense of profound sadness about him hidden skilfully under a veneer of indifference, probably arising out of losing his childhood friend Kizuki, who committed suicide at 17. While Naoko, Kizuki's first and only girlfriend, is a beautiful and emotionally fragile being who has been unable to grapple with the tragedy of Kizuki's untimely death. Still in mourning, bound by a mutual feeling of isolation, Toru and Naoko, forge an unnatural connection of sorts, when they cross each other's paths years later in Tokyo. Toru falls in love right away and even she feels something love-like for him, but sadly enough it is not enough to heal them both. Soon the emotionally unstable Naoko recedes to a sanatorium in mountainous Kyoto while Toru tries to continue with his life as an unremarkable university student, seeking comfort in sleeping with random women. In Naoko's continued absence from his life, he makes friends with the bright, sassy, sexually liberated Midori Kobayashi, who has had her fair share of tragedies too but still manages to be optimistic. An unlikely friendship with Midori, helps dissipate some of the darkness in Toru's life but he is still unable to get Naoko off his mind and keeps writing her letters irrespective of whether she sends a reply or not. The rest of the book details Toru's dilemma as he is torn between these two women, never too sure of whether to shun his troubled past and embrace reality as it comes or keep waiting for Naoko to fully recover from her festering psychological wounds.

Written in a lucid language, the book is full of metaphors usually represented by the description of natural scenery. Murakami's obsession with western classics and music is reflected in the countless references to Beatles numbers like "Yesterday", "Michelle", "Something", Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti and literary works of Joseph Conrad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and so on.

The brief overview of the plot does not, in any way, do justice to the story. For a book like Norwegian Wood cannot be summarized.
It is about human relationships which cannot be given a name or a clear definition. It is about the ghastly spectre of death and the way the people who are no longer with us, sometimes leave us in a permanent state of damage. It is about friendship and love and sexuality. And most important of all, it is about sadness. In its cruelest yet most beautiful form. The inherent dreariness of the book gets to you at some point or the other, but Murakami's compelling story-telling ways, make sure you keep reading till the very end.

P.S:- Despite being a Japan buff, I came to know about Haruki Murakami, quite recently while reading an article on his latest work 1Q84. He has been hailed as one of the world's greatest living novelists, and is one of the finest Japanese writers of our times. 

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18 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

Am sure this must be an interesting read from your narrative

Anish said...

Thanks for the review,will give this a try,sounds very good! :)

Alka Gurha said...

Honestly I dont like books that make me cry, cause I cry at the drop of a hat and the story keeps bothering me.Great review though.

Freelancer said...

i love this writer!! i read one of his books but not this one! hmm wil give it a go

Nethra said...

I already know that Japanese are good storytellers and reading a novel written in English by a Japanese novelist would be like a treat to me. I shall read this book sometime. It sounds good, especially the "sad" part.

Nice review!

Purba said...

I hope the book is as good as your review :)

VeeKay said...

That's a nice review. I really really want to start reading these Japanese novels but I do not know where to start with. I doubt if we can get them in book stores. How do you manage to keep in track with all these Korean and Japanese novels and dramas? :O

☆ ayu☆ said...

i havent read it but last night i have watched the movie trailer starring starring kenichi matsuyama...and it was so good..i wanna watch it..<3

Samadrita Kuiti said...

@Rahul Bhatia: It is an interesting read. Do read sir, if you can.

@Anish: Actually of all Murakami's novels, this one is a light read I heard. You can start with Kafka on the Shore or After Dark or The Wind up Bird Chronicle if you don't like youth melodrama.

@Alka: Actually these books are beyond any specific categorization like 'happy' or 'sad' reads. They're just beautiful reads.

@Freelancer: Ah the vociferous reader himself. I am planning to read all Murakami novels actually. I am a big fan now. Which one did you read?

Samadrita Kuiti said...

@Nethra: Murakami originally wrote the book in Japanese, it was translated by a professor of Japanese literature from Harvard. Do read one of his books, if not this one. :)

@Purba di: It is. In fact I feel I have not been able to cover all aspects of the book in this review, it is much more melancholic and beautiful.

@Veekay: The Jap and Korean dramas/movies are available in torrent and direct download sites all over the internet. As for Murakami and other Japanese writers, look them up on google. They are popular world wide. Kenzabura Oe is a Nobel prize winner in literature category. Their works have been translated into English. Murakami is one of the most popular writers of our times. People in Britain queued up in front of stores on the eve of the release of his new book 1Q84. He is that popular yes!

@Ayu: Yes I think many of Murakami's novels have been made into movies. But I guess nothing will beat the experience of reading his books.

Meera said...

I like the sound of this book. I also love descriptive stories about human relationships. Hope to read it soon.

dialoguewithyou said...

That was an awesome review. I love books on human relationships and this book sounds to have a perfect balance of everything about them.
I'd love to get to read this one sometime soon :)

latha vijayakumar said...

Your review seems to be another story. Nice reading. Thanks for sharing

Samadrita Kuiti said...

@Meera, CB: It is an amazing book. Do read it or any of Murakami's stories. You won't be disappointed I'm quite sure.

@latha vijayakumar: Thanks for saying such a nice thing about the review. :)

Gyanban said...

One of my all time favorites. I liked your review and commentary on this.

Samadrita Kuiti said...

@Gyanban: Glad you did. :)

D2 said...

I've heard of the writer. Now I know of the book. And yes, you are a major Japan buff. I wonder why.
Reading about relationships are secondary to me, so maybe I'll read it if I have time! :P :D

sharmila said...

Ordering @Flipkart right after this.I am ashamed to admit I have not read the author although the name has been lurking behind my brain somewhere.. good review!Must thank Purba for directing me here:)

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