1. When Watanabe arrives in Hamburg and hears the song
"Norwegian Wood," memories of a scene with Naoko from eighteen
years before come back to him. He feels these memories as "kicks"
and says they were "longer and harder than usual. Which is why I am
writing this book. To think. To understand. . . . I have to write
things down to feel I fully understand them" [p. 5]. Why does this
particular song have such a powerful effect on Watanabe? What does
he understand-or fail to understand-about it by the end of the
novel? In what ways does the process of writing help in
2. Many readers and critics have observed that Norwegian
Wood is Murakami''s most autobiographical book. While we
can never know exactly to what degree a work of fiction reflects
the lived experience of its author, what qualities of the novel
feel autobiographical rather than purely fictional? Do these
qualities enhance your enjoyment of the book?
3. After Watanabe sleeps with Naoko, he says that "her cry was
the saddest sound of orgasm I had ever heard" [p. 40]. Just before
she commits suicide, Naoko tells Reiko: "I just don''t want anybody
going inside me again. I just don''t want to be violated like that
again-by anybody" [p. 284]. In what sense did Watanabe "violate"
her? Do you feel this experience directly relates to her suicide?
Was it, as Watanabe still asks himself nearly twenty years later,
"the right thing to do"?
4. Throughout the novel, Watanabe is powerfully
drawn to both Naoko and Midori. How are these women different from
one another? How would you describe the different kinds of love
they offer Watanabe? Why do you think he finally chooses Midori?
Has he made the right choice?
5. The events Norwegian Wood relates take place
in the late sixties, a period of widespread student unrest. The
university Watanabe attends is frequently beset with protests and
strikes and, in Watanabe''s view, pompous "revolutionary" speeches
filled with meaningless cliches. "The true enemy of this bunch,"
Watanabe thinks, "was not State Power but Lack of Imagination" [p.
57]. At first, he identifies with the student protesters but then
grows cynical. What qualities of Watanabe''s character make this
cynicism inevitable? What is Midori''s reaction to student
6. How would you describe Watanabe''s friend Nagasawa? What is
his view of life, of the right way to live? Why is Watanabe drawn
to him? In what important ways-particularly in their treatment of
women-are they different? How does Murakami use the character of
Nagasawa to define Watanabe more sharply?
7. The Great Gatsby is Watanabe''s favorite
book, one that he rereads often. Why do you think he identifies so
strongly with Fitzgerald''s novel? What does this identification
reveal about his character and his worldview?
8. In many ways, Norwegian Wood is a novel
about young people struggling to find themselves and survive their
various troubles. Kizuki, Hatsumi, Naoko''s sister, and Naoko
herself fail in this struggle and commit suicide. How do their
deaths affect those they leave behind? In what ways does Kizuki''s
suicide both deepen and tragically limit Watanabe''s relationship
9. Murakami''s prose rises at times to an
incandescent lyricism. The description of Watanabe embracing Naoko
is one such instance: "From shoulder to back to hips, I slid my
hand again and again, driving the line and the softness of her body
into my brain. After we had been in this gentle embrace for a
while, Naoko touched her lips to my forehead and slipped out of
bed. I could see her pale blue gown flash in the darkness like a
fish" [p. 163]. Where else do you find this poetic richness in
Norwegian Wood? What does such writing add to the
novel? What does it tell us about Watanabe''s sensibility?
10. At the center of the novel, Reiko tells the
long and painful story of how her life was ruined by a sexual
relationship with a young and pathologically dishonest female
student. How does this story within the story illuminate other
relationships in the novel?
11. What is unusual about the asylum where Reiko and Naoko are
staying? What methods of healing are employed there? How do the
asylum and the principles on which it is run illuminate the
concerns about being "normal" that nearly all the characters in the
12. Naoko attributes Kizuki''s suicide and her own depression to
the fact that they shared such an idyllic childhood together and
eventually, as adults, had to pay the price for that early
happiness. "We didn''t pay when we should have, so now the bills
are due" [p. 128]. Do you think this is an accurate way of
understanding what''s happened to them? What alternative
explanations would you propose?
13. After Kizuki and Naoko have both committed suicide, Watanabe
writes: "I had learned one thing from Kizuki''s death, and I
believed that I had made it part of myself in the form of a
philosophy: ''Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part
of life''" [p. 273]. What do you think he means? Is this view of
life and death resigned or affirmative? How would such a philosophy
change one''s approach to life?
14. What makes Midori such an engaging and forceful character?
How is she different from everyone else in the novel? What kind of
love does she demand from Watanabe? Is she being selfish in her
demands or simply asking for what everyone wants but is afraid to
15. Norwegian Wood appears to end on a happy
note with Watanabe calling Midori and telling her: "All I want in
the world is you. . . . I want the two of us to begin everything
from the beginning" [p. 293]. But when Midori asks where he is,
Watanabe is plunged into a kind of existential confusion. How do
you interpret the novel''s final mysterious sentence: "Again and
again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place
that was no place." Is there anything positive in Watanabe''s not
knowing "where he is"? What is the significance of his being at the
"dead center" of no place, wishing for a new beginning?
16. The events of the novel take place in the
fictional past. What can you infer about Watanabe''s present
condition from the way he tells this story? Do you imagine that he
and Midori have remained together?