Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Murakami

Given that Japan is among my top three favorite countries in the world — I hope to live in Tokyo someday — it seemed important that I get cracking on the country’s most famous living novelist: Haruki Murakami.

I started with Norwegian Wood. It’s his widely-acclaimed and most-read work. I enjoyed it very much. It is about loneliness, love, and 1960s Japanese youth, and Murakami writes about all three themes masterfully and in a voice that’s absolutely unique. For the most part I was engaged and entertained all the way through, and started re-reading when I reached the end.

I will not try to add to the large body of critical analysis; I will simply post below some of my favorite grafs and sentences. Emphases mine.

The paragraph that resonated most for me due to my glaring lack of experience dealing with death:

By living our lives, we nurture death…What I learned from Naoko’s death was this: no truth can cure the sadness we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness, can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see that sadness through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sadness that comes to us without warning.

I enjoyed this description of New Mexico, which furthers my unexplainable love affair with a state I’ve spent almost no time in:

I had gone to Santa Fe to interview a painter and was sitting in a local pizza parlor, drinking beer and eating pizza and watching a miraculously beautiful sunset. Everything was soaked in brilliant red — my hand, the plate, the table, the world — as if some special kind of fruit juice had splashed down on everything.

What the protagonist wanted to tell his crush when they had sex, but couldn’t:

I am having sex with you now. I am inside you. But really this is nothing. It doesn’t matter. It is nothing but the joining of two bodies. All we are doing is telling each other things that can only be told by the rubbing together of two imperfect lumps of flesh. By doing this, we are sharing our imperfection.

Lovely sentences:

“Sleep came and carried me into a mass of warm mud.”
“I felt exhausted, desperate for sleep, but it simply refused to cooperate.”
“I realize all I can put in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories and imperfect thoughts.”
“Midori responded with a long, long silence — the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the now-mown lawns of the world.”

8 Responses to Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Murakami

  1. Andre says:

    If you liked Norwegian Wood, you will have a blast reading Kafka on the Shore.
    Kafta on the Shore was my first Murakami experience, and probably the best book I’ve read by him so far.

  2. Krishna says:

    “The paragraph that resonated most for me due to my glaring lack of experience dealing with death”

    Who has?

  3. Ben Goertzel says:

    You must read “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, it’s his deepest and most amazing book. It’s the full meal whereas “Norwegian Wood” is a kind of amusing appetizer ;-) ….

    Also if you really want your mind blown, try “The Box Man” and then “The Woman in the Dunes” by Kobo Abe. But these are much weirder than Murakami…. Box Man tells more about the Japanese mindset than anything I’ve read, but you need to be willing to enter into its strange world and its strange ways…

  4. Zoelle says:

    So glad to see you reading fiction! I started on Murakami with Norwegian Wood as well, and I second the person above who recommended “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” Also: are you familiar with his thoughts on running? You might find them interesting.

  5. Lloyd Morgan says:

    Murakami is undoubtedly one of my favourite writers. His prose is addictive.

    A Wild Sheep Chase is about as surreal as I can comfortably go and is definitely worth a look.

    Of course there is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but if there is another ‘essential Murakami’ (to join Norwegian Wood) it has to be What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. For a taste of it, check out Jason’s excerpts.

  6. Billysblog says:

    Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World is one of my top 3 novels. There is nothing like it; it is pure imagination. I’m surprised no one above mentioned it, although Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are amazing as well.

    Thanks for sharing your favorite lines, I have a few Murakami lines written out and it’s interesting to see what other’s find insightful or well written.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Dealing with *other* people’s deaths, I should say.

  8. Ben Casnocha says:

    I read his New Yorker piece on running; I haven’t yet read the book version.

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