BOOK Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami’s words are simplistic and comforting, yet profound and striking at the same time. Murakami’s writing reminded me of the sheer power of expressing one’s ideas and emotions through words, how it grasps its readers, and leaves them with a lasting emotional impression.

Set in Tokyo in the 1960s, it tells the story of a young college student, Toru, who falls in love with the beautiful and introspective Naoko, who also happens to be his dead friend’s girlfriend. His friend’s suicide sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Both characters struggle to come to terms with it. Their grief becomes more and more unbearable with each day, seriously impacting their mental health. It especially threatens Naoko, who eventually ends up in a sanitarium.

Toru, unable to let go of Naoko, starts to alienate himself. Toru explains: “In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.” Both characters become increasingly haunted by the figure of death and are unable to escape the lasting effects of it.

That is, until the lively and outgoing Midori enters his life. He has a fresh, new attitude and offers Toru and lending hand back into the real world. The protagonist however, struggles accepting help from others.

Although the story is quite simple in its plot, it is the charm and eloquent language that is a powerful force throughout the novel. It is a story focused on the protagonist’s internal thoughts, and exploration of fascinating and insightful conversations. The dialogue is truthful, witty, and devastatingly beautiful. Murakami’s authentic, honest, and realistic writing provides readers with an insightful understanding of Toru’s feelings and struggles.

Essentially this is a coming-of-age story, as the young characters gradually learn how to cope with their grief and loss. In addition, Murakami illustrates obstacles of adolescence, such as: struggling with one’s self identity, feeling helpless and lost, and not knowing how to enter the intimidating ‘adult world’.

It is up to the individual to learn how to change their outlook on life, and to move forward into the future, rather than being stuck in the past. It is when Toru talks to his dead friend, and says: “Hey, there, Kizuki, I thought. Unlike you, I’ve chosen to live – and to live the best I know how.”

The transition into adulthood is painful at times. The success and popularity of this book is for this reason. Murakami writes of sentiments and struggles which people from all over the world face at some point in their life. The power of novels is that we can all come together in our universal experiences, despite all our differences.