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Book Review: Norwegian Wood

Posted by gck Thursday, December 27, 2012

NorwegianWoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of character-based books

Book 6 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
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.

My review:
There are books I want to review and books that I don’t want to review. This one falls into the latter category, and I’m writing one because it’s a book for the Around the World challenge. I liked the book, but I don’t have anything interesting to say about it. I saw the movie before reading the book, and the beautiful visuals left me with a stronger impression than the text, even though the film had clear flaws.

There are cultures that I feel an instant kinship with and cultures that I struggle to understand. The ones I struggle with aren’t necessarily the ones that are the most visibly different, but the behaviors and sense of humor just don’t quite mesh with my own. This is, of course, a massive generalization based on low exposure, and the Around the World challenge provides an opportunity for me to change that.

The Japanese culture is one of those “weird” ones to me. And reading this book, a bestseller in Japan, doesn’t change that. The characters are weird, especially in the sexual sense. Maybe they’re weird in Japan, too? Either way, it doesn’t clear things up in my mind. Weird characters are interesting to read about, but I felt distant from the characters and unable to really connect with them. The exception to this was Naoko’s retreat from the world into a a sanatorium. This was probably my favorite part of the book, and I felt like I wanted to be all sad and hidden away from the world, too. Ah, returning to the teenage mindset!

Murakami is a beautiful writer, and I’d like to read more of his books. I also think that rereading this one would bring out things I didn’t get in a first reading, and I hope to do a reread soon. One quote remained with me from the film, and it is the same quote (in a more verbose wording) that stands out in the book:

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature, but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”


  1. I understand where you are coming from, though I really enjoyed this novel. I am reading All That Matters by Wayson Choy right now, and I love it because it is enlightening me about Chinese culture, but from time to time I struggle to understand different ways of looking at the world. I hope you enjoy Murakami novels in the future!

  2. gck Says:
  3. I did enjoy the novel -- despite my struggle with the characters, I enjoyed the writing. I am still holding onto my belief that I will fall in love with one of Murakami's novels. This just wasn't the one. :)


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