Sunday, February 7, 2010

Norwegian Wood

Another Murakami and another beautiful piece of work. If you've read a number of Murakamis - like I have - you realise that this one is a bit different but still retains the essence of his writing. The poetry in prose is intact. As you read this book the metaphors come alive and you can almost visualise the scene and the people in them.

'Norwegian Wood' is at its root the love stories of the central character Toru Watanabe. Its a story of lost friendships and the pain felt by Toru as he tries to find and keep love. Death is a underlying theme in the story and Toru learns something new with each death. The engrossing thing of Murakami's writing is that each character is human surrounded by flaws and you feel the pain of each character. As you read the book you tend to relate the flaws with some of the people you know and wonder if this is how they feel.

The entire story spans just 4 years but is packed with so many events in Toru's life that you feel he has lived a lifetime. The huge emotional gap in Toru's life starts at 17 when his best friend - Kizuki - commits suicide. He discovers love for Naoko, Kizuki's girlfriend, but she is so flawed and emotionally imbalanced by Kizuki's death that she focussed on healing herself first while asking Toru to wait. But Toru finds friendship in Midori who, incidentally, is just as emotionally unstable as Naoko but accepts those faults and lives with them rather than fighting them.

The book presents us with two completely different ways of dealing with the pain of losing a loved one. While Naoko is unable to deal with the pain and is trapped in her own fragile world; Midori accepts her instabilities and fights them in the real world. Her bravado hides the emotional instability but she is at least alive. At the same time one sympathizes with Naoko and wishes desperately, for Toru's sake, that she get better.

In all these are two fantastic characters - Reiko Ishida - Naoko's room mate in the sanitorium but really a midway character between Naoko and Midori. Reiko understands her instabilities, has not bravado and quietly fights them to emerge triumphant. And then there is Nagasawa, Toru's friend who presents the emotionally detached character for whom women and lust are a ways to and end; who clearly knows where he wants to go and is bored by the journey.

The best character in the book is of course Toru and you feel for him as you travel the journey with him. You wish he gets Naoko, you wish he outgrows her and understands his feelings for Midori, you wish he listens to Reiko and you wish that he does not become like Nagasawa. You smile as he tells Naoko that he will forever remember the time she gave him a handjob and that he would never have sex with another woman and would wait for her. You feel his pain when he roams Japan to get over the death of the one he loves the most.

For me the book has a special meaning for its explanation of love that resonates with how I understand love. Read the book - you might discover something about yourself.

I rate it 4.5/5

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