I grew up with this novel. I first read it in the fifth grade along with 69 and The Catcher in the Rye, when my father unexpectedly brought home a stack of secondhand books. Practically overnight, I changed from an innocent eleven-year-old to a confused, world-wary girl. Norwegian Wood confirmed my suspicions about sex and introduced me to lesbianism. It was the most sinful book I had come across at the time. Unfortunately, I only had the second part (Kodansha English Library separated it into two volumes), so my first full reading came only this week, after Iggy graciously lent me his brand-new copy.
The novel tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a young man torn between his commitment to the fragile Naoko and the possibility of a real future with the free-spirited Midori. Amidst a whirl of alcohol, sex, music and youth uprisings, he makes his choice, and finds himself abruptly swept into an adulthood that leaves him forever looking back.
No sheep-man, no little green monster, no vanishing elephant: Norwegian Wood seems as normal as they come. But even without a Murakami spectacle, the book never gets boring. Song-triggered flashbacks, adolescent stories, casual conversations—even in these, this author is never dull. I confess to obvious bias. After all, this is my favorite Murakami novel so far. At eleven, I saw nothing in this book beyond sex and scandal. At twenty, I went into it with a whole lot less naiveté and came out much more fulfilled, albeit sadder. I only now begin to understand the strange bond between Toru and Naoko, born out of a shared sorrow. All throughout this novel, characters struggle to cope, to let the forward pull of time carry them onward, even as they bring along with them departures that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Words flowed easily from page to mind in this second reading. I recalled fragments from nine years ago: Naoko feeding the birds in her yellow raincoat, Midori standing beneath a streetlamp (drunk and clamoring for a tree to climb), Toru grieving beside a fisherman on an unknown shore. I had not realized it, but these images have stayed with me through the years, and somehow I have a feeling there they will remain—perhaps until the next time I stumble upon them again, perhaps forever.
I straightened up and looked out of the window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of all I had lost in the course of my life: times gone for ever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.
‘…when I’m really close to you like this, I’m not the least bit scared. Nothing dark or evil could ever tempt me.’
‘If I relaxed my body now, I’d fall apart. I’ve always lived like this, and it’s the only way I know how to go on living. If I relaxed for a second, I’d never find my way back. I’d go to pieces, and the pieces would be blown away.’
‘I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?’
‘Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it—to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more.’
‘If I have left a wound inside you, it is not just your wound but mine as well.’
‘The dead will always be dead, but we have to go on living.’
It was as if I were writing letters to hold together the pieces of my crumbling life.
Somewhere inside me there was still preserved a broad, open space, untouched, for Naoko and no one else.
‘…you need to grab whatever chance of happiness where you find it…we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.’
Midori responded with a long, long silence—the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world.