Norwegian Wood

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Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | September 12, 2000 | Trade Paperback

Norwegian Wood is rated 5 out of 5 by 3.
First American Publication

This stunning and elegiac novel by the author of the internationally acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has sold over 4 million copies in Japan and is now available to American audiences for the first time.  It is sure to be a literary event.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.63 in

Published: September 12, 2000

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375704027

ISBN - 13: 9780375704024

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Bird Has Flown "Norwegian Wood" is the third book, and counting, of Haruki Murakami that I have read. This is definitely my favourite of his so far. It has that distinct Murakami style of narration and description of things so simple and small, yet vividly brought to life. Unlike the previous two Murakami books I read, "After Dark" and "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle", there is no supernatural elements in this story, making it so down-to-earth and very much more relatable for anyone who has gained love, lost love. Is it possible to love two people at the same time? Toru meets two girls in his life who he feels he does - Naoko, a childhood friend who is emotionally delicate, dealing with depression stemming from a tragedy that Toru shares the pain with too, and Midori, a classmate at college who is zestful and forthright, the complete opposite of Naoko, yet she has issues of her own tucked away too. Yes, flawed characters. Murakami has a flair in portraying them, subtly with dignity. You sense Toru's distance with worldly possessions surrounding him, Naoko's struggle with finding herself, and Midori's yearn for love and initimacy. The title and lyrics of The Beatle's song, "Norwegian Wood", is perfect for the novel: "I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me".
Date published: 2010-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Humor Balancing the Sadness Makes This a Catcher in the Rye Classic When I reached the last page of "Norwegian Wood," after reading the novel's pitch-perfect last line, due to an utter unwillingness, a near inability, to leave the beautiful world Murakami had created, I proceeded to immediately flip back to the first page and start all over again. That was a few years back now. I've read it again since. More than once. Because the book hit a place in my soul, a mate to my soul, a heart to my heart. The Beatles song Murakami's 1987 novel is named after is on surface listen a pretty two minute ditty. A pretty, but sad, thing. The tone of Murakami's novel has something similar gently pulling the reader through. It is also equally deceptive to the song in how simple it seems, how easy it reads. Yet, beneath a book that reads like almost pure autobiography, and a song that listens like effortless melody, lie layered artful structure, and things thematically heavier than meet the eye. The Beatles' song that is so melodically sweet ends with a man taking revenge on a girl who would not sleep with him, by burning down the furniture in her room. Murakami's narrator does no such thing. But his book too juxtaposes a gentle tone with themes of longing, of loss and of what can and will never be. To be somewhat vague and very brief "Norwegian Wood," set in the Tokyo of the 1960s, is a love story. Basically it is a sad story. Most all the love in the book is of the unrequited variety, and there is more than one suicide. The book has much to lend itself to feeling blue, like Miles Davis on his muted trumpet. But for every lonely moment, you get a scene with a character like Reiko, a friend like Reiko, a woman who should be tragic considering her history but who, by the time we meet her in a sort of sanatorium for sad or screwed up people, turns out to be that rock solid salt of the earth type who seems like the mentally healthiest person on earth. Better still, though no longer the piano virtuoso she once was, she plays a mean guitar, Beatles song included. The magic of Murakami's "Norwegian Wood," is that a book so focused on sad subject manner manages to have what all books need to be great - a sense of adventure. Not, of course, in the children's literature sense of the word, but in the 'you've gone off to another place' sense. "... the bus plunged into a chilling cedar forest. The trees might have been old growth the way they towered over the road, blocking out the sun and covering everything in gloomy shadows. The breeze flowing into the bus's open windows turned suddenly cold, its dampness sharp against the skin. The valley road hugged the river bank, continuing so long through the trees it began to seem as if the whole world had been buried for ever in cedar forest - at which point the forest ended, and we came to an open basin surrounded by mountain peaks. Broad, green farmland spread out in all directions, and the river by the road looked bright and clear. A single thread of white smoke rose in the distance..." Best of all is the poetry is in the book's balance, as alongside depression and suicide, you also get a character like Midori - one of my favourite in all modern literature. "At 5:30 Midori said she had to go home and make dinner. I said I would take a bus back to my dorm, and saw her as far as the station. 'Know what I want to do now?' Midori asked me as she was leaving. 'I have absolutely no idea what you could be thinking,' I said. 'I want you and me to be captured by pirates. Then they strip us and press us together face to face all naked and wind these ropes around us.' 'Why would they do a thing like that?' 'Perverted pirates,' she said. 'You're the perverted one,' I said." And really, what else do you need to help you cope with death, and the kind of love that will never be, but perverted pirates? -Probably Because I Have To
Date published: 2010-05-08
Rated out of 5 by from Strange and Beautiful Norwegian Wood follows a young man, Toru Watanabe, and his relationships with some very unique characters during the late 60's and early 70's. Toru falls in love with Naoko and Midori, two women who are complete opposites. Naoko is very fragile emotionally and struggles with deep depression, while Midori is free-spirited and bouncy. As the novel progresses, Toru struggles with loss, love, and some very conflicting feelings. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED this novel. Toru and his relationships were so flawed, yet strangely beautiful. I felt so much emotion from and for these characters. The descriptions of the people and situations in Norwegian Wood seemed almost poetic in their elegance and grace. This novel was a pleasure to read, and the deeper meaning of the story was amazing. There was a fair bit of sexual content in this novel, but it wasn't gratuitous; it actually helped to build the characters and provided the necessary ambience. Overall, I was left feeling that life can be beautiful in spite of all the tragedy that seems to surround us. I long for more of these characters, more of their story. Norwegian Wood is an incredibly memorable novel, and I can’t stop thinking about and reflecting upon it. It’s a must-read! On a side note, this novel gave me a new appreciation for the song Norwegian Wood by The Beatles.
Date published: 2008-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timeless and beautiful Haunting and sweet. A quiet masterpiece.
Date published: 2006-05-31

– More About This Product –

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.63 in

Published: September 12, 2000

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375704027

ISBN - 13: 9780375704024

Read from the Book

OneI was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in rain gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So-Germany again.Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.I bent forward in my seat, face in hands to keep my skull from splitting open. Before long one of the German stewardesses approached and asked in English if I were sick. "No," I said, "just dizzy.""Are you sure?""Yes, I'm sure. Thanks."She smiled and left, and the music changed to a Billy Joel tune. I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.The plane reached the gate. People began unlatching their seatbelts and pulling baggage from the storage bins, and all the while I was in the meadow. I could smell the grass, feel the wind on my face, hear the cries of the birds. Autumn 1969, and soon I would be twenty.The stewardess came to check on me again. This time she sat next to me and asked if I was all right."I'm
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From the Publisher

First American Publication

This stunning and elegiac novel by the author of the internationally acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has sold over 4 million copies in Japan and is now available to American audiences for the first time.  It is sure to be a literary event.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

From the Jacket

First American Publication
This stunning and elegiac novel by the author of the internationally acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has sold over 4 million copies in Japan and is now available to American audiences for the first time. It is sure to be a literary event.
Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

About the Author

Haruki Murakami lives near Tokyo.

Newly translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin.

From Our Editors

This highly acclaimed novel by Haruki Murakami sold more than four million copies in Japan. Norwegian Wood features an overly serious young college student in Tokyo who falls for a beautiful young woman. The two cannot consummate their relationship, as they are both in mourning over the death of their mutual best friend. Things get complicated when the student finds himself falling for a more sexually liberated young woman. This poignant coming-of-age story received outstanding reviews from Newsday and The Washington Post Book World. Murakami is also the author of Wind Up Bird Chronicles.

Editorial Reviews

“A masterly novel. . . . Norwegian Wood bears the unmistakable marks of Murakami’s hand.” –The New York Times Book Review

Norwegian Wood . . . not only points to but manifests the author’s genius.” –Chicago Tribune

“[A] treat . . . Murakami captures the heartbeat of his generation and draws the reader in so completely you mourn when the story is done.” –The Baltimore Sun

“Vintage Murakami [and] easily the most erotic of [his] novels.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

Bookclub Guide

US

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 understanding?

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 activism?

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 with Naoko?

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 novel express?

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 pursue?

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?