This stunning and elegiac novel by the author of the internationally acclaimed Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has sold over 4 million copies in Japan and is now available to American audiences for the first time. It is sure to be a literary event. 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. A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.
“A masterly novel. . . . Norwegian Wood bears the unmistakable marks of Murakami’s hand.” (The New York Times Book Review) “Norwegian Wood . . . not only points to but manifests the author’s genius.” (Chicago Tribune) “[A] treat . . . Murakami captures the heartbeat of his generation and draws the reader in so completely you mourn when the story is done.” (The Baltimore Sun)
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The narrator's female voice was annoying. Also, he missed the correct inflection at times. I wish I would've read this book instead of listen. With Murakami's books, I will read instead, I'll listen to more mainstream authors on Audible.
I have something of a mixed relationship with Murakami. sometimes his magic sense of what is possible enthralls me, and on other outings I am instead absolutely baffled at what it takes to make it into the literary canon.
Fortunately it seems that even Murakami himself is somewhat baffled by the popularity of this book, once even saying he didn't want it to be what he was known for. So I can at least write this knowing that I'm not being completely unreasonable. It may be important to note that this is the first of his works to be translated into English, which, given how unique is type of story is, might go a ways towards understanding it's (initial) popularity.
The story itself is a selfish wondering tale about a man looking back at his life, I think, it happens in the beginning and then the framing device is quickly abandoned in the name of...what I'm not precisely sure. I would say young love, but that rings hollow. Sex might make it closer to the mark. Pair the sex with a large dose of wandering existential angst and you've pretty much got the book covered.
he starts his narrative as a teenager suffering at the hands of youthful tragedy. Then before we can see how his life changes he is off to college where he gnashes his teeth at faux-revolutionaries and dealing with the typically troublesome and humorous roommate troubles, then before that can take us anywhere truly worthwhile we are off to a commune to visit the ever present link to his path. Every scene, every secondary of tertiary character is introduced and then quickly abandoned and given strange and unnatural exits without much further contemplation.
It all seems somehow hollow,. We hear of his isolation, he tells us, but we do not feel it. We see his friends, but no one really sticks in the static void that is the narrative. The only thing that seems to pin this book together is sex, it seems to be the only moments we get anything even remotely human from the characters, but even then it's rather generic romance-novel level descriptions of this genitalia and the other.
The best parts of the book come when we are not simply shown things, but are given a chance to see them first hand. These, invariably come in spurts of slow often pastoral conversation in communes and restaurants are handled well enough and attempt to muddle out a sense of purpose for the main character and the book as a whole.
The translation itself is a little muddled, with strange, almost jarring cuts where it feels like pieces of the book have been mended together imperfectly. The little turns of phrases the perforate the Japanese language are often translated in ways that make it awkwardly clear that we have no verbal signifier of contemplation quite like the Japanese. As it was his first book published in the States i can only imagine this is somehow indicative of a Mr. Rubin's apprenticeship to the more fluid, if only slightly less awkward translations of Murakami's later works.
The narrator is unremarkable. Given the amount of female characters, one would think they would have found someone who could pull off a feminine voice with a bit more believability. Instead we a given these raspy, thinly veiled masculine tones to every character and, while I as able to eventually get used to it, there are infinity of narrator's better suited to this book.
I say all this not to deter you from trying it yourself. It's just as of this writing there is nothing here to inform as to what you are actually getting yourself into, so I figured I'd help out. If you don't mind a pointless bit of authorial indulgence, give it a shot. If you like the stories you've read before, ignore me. Read it, love it, I hope you do. If you haven't read him before start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland or Kakfa on the Shore and come here after you've gotten your feet wet. I don't regret reading the book, it is simply on I will likely never return to.