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Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?”

Norwegian Wood

Memories fade but continually haunt Toru Watanabe, the narrator of Haruki Murakami’s acclaimed novel, Norwegian Wood. The more the memories fade, the more he feels haunted:

“Even so, my memory has grown increasingly distant, and I have already forgotten any number of things. Writing from memory like this, I often feel a pang of dread. What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? … Naoko herself knew, of course. She knew that my memories of her would fade. Which is precisely why she begged me never to forget her, to remember that she had existed. The thought fills me with an almost unbearable sorrow. Because Naoko never loved me.”

Twenty years after the events of Norwegian Wood, Toru reflects back on his first year of college in 1969. It’s basically the Summer of Love, Japanese style.

At its surface, Norwegian Wood is a straightforward coming-of-age tale and love story. It is one of the few novels by Haruki Murakami without any elements of magical realism.

Toru falls deeply in love with Naoko, a young woman who has been emotionally damaged by the suicides of two people who had been closest to her. To her credit, Naoko realizes that she needs psychological help and moves to a hippie-style sanatorium where hopefully she can heal.

Toru loves Naoko and wishes he can help her. But he must learn the hard lesson that he cannot control another person’s emotions.

Of course, Norwegian Wood has a love triangle. Naoko’s depressive mood is contrasted with the vivacious Midori, who is full of life and tries to bring out the best in Toru. Midori is the Venus to Naoko’s Saturn. But Toru cannot let go of Naoko and move on, even as he sets his own life on a course of regret and misery.

Toru is so focused on Naoko that he doesn’t pay attention to his own emotional well-being. He doesn’t recognize when he puts himself in a very unhealthy relationship, and no amount of love and longing will make it better.

Norwegian Wood is emotionally devastating, completely wrecking me every time I read it. I’m actually a little scared to pick it up because of the emotional impact it inevitably has. It always takes my rubber soul some time to bounce back after closing its back cover.

Norwegian Wood is one of my all-time favorite novels. It’s almost too good, just like the Beatles song it’s named after.

5/5

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood

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