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. 


Friday, October 14, 2011

The ones who choose not to

A recently released UN report on world health, states that there will be an estimated 4% increase in the number of children suffering from malnutrition in the African continent by 2014. Not only that, due to global warming and other environmental hazards, the climate will continue to be unpredictable and food production will considerably lessen in the coming years.
It is nothing out of the ordinary to be greeted with bad news early in the morning these days, but the thought of starving infants in some corner of the world, forces you to eye your breakfast with a sense of profound guilt. Just when you and me are busy planning another vacation in the Maldives or thinking of getting some elite club membership, there are people out there who are fighting for a morsel of food in unimaginably adverse conditions.
This led me to wonder. Why do parents bring children into the world they cannot feed?
Why is the population of the world growing at an exponential rate when we are running out of valuable resources at an equally alarming rate? Why do people still make a big deal out of a woman who doesn't have a child?

Since the dawn of civilization, we've been entrusted with the task of devising ways to carry our races forward and ensure the survival of our species.
Get married. Have kids. And when your kids grow up, make it your first and foremost duty to pester them into getting married and have kids in turn.

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I don't know if I'm venturing into uncharted territory by questioning accepted social institutions, but shouldn't marriage be an individual choice and not a compulsion? Shouldn't the question of having children, also be given a lot of thought?

I remember a teacher from my high school, who had a perfectly blissful marital life. She was above 40 at the time I was in the 7th grade and still childless. She was also glamorous and accomplished.
We came to know much later that she and her husband had mutually decided that they would not have any children. Now I don't understand why others (like the opinionated parents of many of my classmates) had to worry their heads over the whys and why-nots of this or concoct cock-and-bull stories about my teacher's 'infertility'. Can't remaining childless be a conscious decision on someone's part?

Quite recently I came across the information (all thanks to an amazing Korean drama) that a child born to parents who have both crossed the age of 35 is at a higher risk of having Down's Syndrome. It's not like I'm judging those who become parents at an older age than most. But do people ever pause to think about the repercussions of raising a child who may not have the same cognitive abilities as the rest, who maybe at the receiving end of everyone's sympathy for the rest of his/her life?

I have no idea whatsoever about how parenthood might feel like, but when I think about it from a rational point of view and observe so many people around me, I realize not everyone is made out to be a good father or a good mother. Giving birth to a healthy, normal baby may keep gossiping neighbors and nagging parents/in-laws at bay and end your fears of dying childless. But then it also marks the beginning of a perilous new journey fraught with more difficult hurdles. Bringing up a child is not the same as raising a Labrador puppy.
That is why we need to think a million times before judging a couple who do not have a child. Or a person who has not married or is reluctant to start a family.
More important than just adding one more to the ever-expanding sea of humans, is to inculcate good values in your young one, so that one day he/she can contribute positively towards building a better world and a society where dichotomous opinions may co-exist in harmony, where people learn to take responsibility for their own actions and those who choose to defy established norms are not frowned upon by the rest.

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