A Book Review: Norwegian Wood

The title is from one of Beatles famous songs. I never did personally liked the band because the songs does not appeal to my ears. Blame it on being born in the era of boy bands with the likes of Nick Carter and his brothers, A1, Westlife to name a few. I grew up in the 90’s.


While the novel was set in the late 1960’s, a troubled times for Japan. Since I grew up in the 90’s, my understanding of the events, way of life and fashion of the 60’s is foreign to me. I had to imagine the societal mentality and emotions going of that period.

The story was narrated by Toru Watanabe using a first person style of narration. It unfolds through the eyes and understanding of Toru alone (I like to call him Watanabe). The setting is Kyoto now Tokyo and uses the backdrop of university life – boring and uneventful except for the pickets or rallies.

On the student uprisings, Toru was indiferrent until the end. He was busy in his own little world to care about the outside world. He, in short is apolitical.

In the beginning, it was already established that Toru had already grown and the story he narrated is from memory to which he alludes as faltering as he deplanes in Germany.

His younger life was generally surrounded with suicides. At 17 there was Kizuki, a friend he admires. The reason of his suicide was never expounded. Then there was Naoko, the girl who turned into a woman he loved. She was admitted in a sanatorium and his visits, a memory he would cherish all his life. Then there was Hatsumi, his friend Nagasawa’s girlfriend.

To be surrounded by death, one can only cringe at the unfairness of it all. Yet, Toru decided to keep breathing, have sex, move on and love again.

The man who chooses life over death is a brave man and Toru after all he went through, was brave. He learned that death is a part of life early on and for a youth to realize that at puberty is enough to make him be disillusioned about life.

Yet, his character was bland, maybe with a little depth but still bland. He had no burning passion, no dreams, he took life as it comes and somehow took it for granted. He was not living life as he should be. He somehow became only a spectator as life unfolds in front of him.

Naoko was described and portrayed as an angel all throughout the novel because that was how Toru percieved her. She was his angel. Yet, she was twisted early on. I kind of pity her for not going through normal puberty period. Looking back, puberty is one hell of an experience. Everything are magnified and intense. But her suicide made Toru value his life more, to maybe start living his own life.

I like Nagasawa or rather part of his character. That is when you discard his unemotional treatment of women, his character and personality is the typical male I would admire. Driven, with dreams and works hard for a goal. Give him a heart for empathy and compassion and he’ll do nicely.

Hatsumi can be found everywhere. She is a part of every woman – nurturing, loyal and loving. I didn’t expect she’ll end up her own life since she seemed strong enough. She is the only character I had somehow wished survived.

All this suicide in Haruki Murakami’s novel portrayed the emotional and societal outlook of Japan then and maybe now. Choosing death over living in shame, poverty, scandal or heartbreak.

Midori somehow is the wild flower in the story. I liked and disliked her yet like seems to prevail. She’s the exact opposite of Naoko – alive, frivolous and downright funny. Somehow those were the traits that had drawn Toru to her. As she has said she’s a living woman, with blood running through her veins. It was on that part that I hoped Naoko had lived and recovered. Midori’s love for Toru seemed like a betrayal on Toru’s love for Naoko.

But maybe Naoko never did love Toru. What do we know of love? It is a word that has a lot of meaning and could depict a lot of emotions.


Reiko, oh old Reiko. Her name even has a lovely ring to it. I feel it was the only success story out of all the characters. Death made her live again or choose to live again. To see life, experience it’s ups and downs. Cry, laugh, sing songs, enjoy sex and welcome the unknown with fear.

The end was vague with Toru calling Midori from a phonebooth. He wanted to reach out to her, tell her he love her or just Toru seeking salvation he can not find within himself.

Overall the novel was a good read. It touched the deepest emotions of suicide and re-affirms that madness do thrives in everyone. That a thin thread separates sanity and insanity as with life and death.

We, who chooses life over death are brave.#


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