Haruki Murakami is a difficult author to write about. He is one of my favourite writers, who surprises and delights me each time I begin a new novel of his. If there is one commonality that ties his novels together, it’s the fact that his body of fiction defies categorization. Murakami frequently writes about people’s intimate life experiences while they deal with love, loss, growth, pain and revelation. Often these stories are set within a certain point in history, which adds a human dimension to our understanding of that time.
Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is just that novel. Published in 1987 to critical acclaim, “Norwegian Wood” has been cited as his best novel. “Norwegian Wood” tells the story of Toru, an introspective young man studying in Tokyo during the sixties. The story follows Toru’s coming of age while he navigates his new life in Tokyo as well as coming to terms with the unexpected death of his best friend, Kizuki. As Toru tries to understand Kizuki’s senseless passing as well as determine what path, both personally and academically to take, he rekindles his friendship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.
Toru and Naoko soon realize that their feelings for each goes beyond friendship, which is further complicated by Naoko’s own inability to cope with Kizuki’s death. Naoko’s fragility makes it difficult to maintain a relationship with Toru, who eventually ends up falling equally in love with his classmate, Midori. Midori is radically different from Naoko, and Toru finds himself torn between the two loves of his life. As the plot delves deeper into Toru’s romantic and existential pain, Murakami effectively conjures the mood and atmosphere of the sixties, complete with historic and pop culture references.
The details of Toru’s experiences ultimately add up to Murakami’s sentiment that life can be beautiful and sad, tragic and unpredictable. Each and every one of us is on our own paths seeking truth in our lives and relationships. As we follow and listen to Toru’s first person narrative, Murakami reveals not only Toru’s thoughts, anxieties, and questions about life, but our own.