Norwegian Wood – A Coming of Age Tale for All Time

By Leslie Blanco
Staff Writer:

Set against the backdrop of the protests of the 1960’s in Japan over the presence of American military bases in Okinawa, “Norwegian Wood” by Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami will relate to you in more ways than you know.

Murakami’s novel, published in 1987, became one of the author’s most famous and best-selling works and is as relevant today as it was then. It follows the story of eighteen-year-old Toru Watanabe and highlights his experiences during his collegiate years. There is a focus on the protagonist’s romantic relationships but the novel offers more than just that. It’s about loss, trials of youth and finding yourself amongst a rapidly changing world. It is about a life filled with art and music; most of all it places significance on the relationships and interactions between individuals who influence and shape each other.

Murakami brings to light a fragile picture of the years between 18 and 22, as one struggles to become society’s definition of an adult. Murakami’s prose has a certain charm about it which is honest, straightforward, and clear, but also poetic and captivating to read:

“Girls my age never use the word fair. The central question for them is not whether something is fair but whether or not it’s beautiful or will make them happy. Fair is a man’s word…and because questions of beauty and happiness have become such difficult and convoluted propositions for me now, I suspect, I find myself clinging to other standards—like, whether or not something is fair or honest or universally true.”

What is most striking  is how the characters’ stories interweave with each other. Nagasawa, for example, the self-proclaimed bad boy and womanizer archetype, is more than what one would perceive that character to be; despite the bad boy persona, he is a very charismatic, clever, and high-achieving character. There are deeper layers within this character and as Toru’s peer, a couple of years older than him, he has become somewhat of a mentor to Toru.

Then there are the romantic love interests: Midori and Naoko. Both contrast greatly with the other. Naoko is beautiful, dark and mysterious — a combination that is captivating to Toru. Midori, on the other hand, is lively and fun, with a pixie-like haircut and gives off a carefree air. Even the minor characters of the story such as Hatsumi, Reiko, and even Stormtrooper bring a sense of diversity and fluidity to the novel that helps with the integration of stories in each of their lives.

Toru also finds himself not really fitting in with the social and political constraints of modern society. Big business and corporations are being built, “Old Japan” is dying and is in the beginning stages of the new technological age. The growth that he is going through as a character can be paralleled to the environment around him, and how it is ever-expanding and morphing in order to suit the times.

Music also plays a role in “Norwegian Wood”, as it does in almost all of Haruki Murakami’s novels. It makes perfect sense because he grew up in the 60’s where music and activism for the first time truly went hand in hand. All across Japan, there were student-protests. Songs by the Beatles are featured in the novel and they set the tone throughout the narrative. The scene where Toru is in the mountains visiting Naoko’s retreat, Reiko, her caretaker picks up a guitar and  sings “Norwegian Wood”, John Lennon’s ode to a secret love affair and the conflicted feelings of love and loss thereof. Murakami cleverly links the meaning of the song to Toru’s sense of uncertainty about the two loves in his life, which is a recurring theme of the novel.

Loss, grief and heartbreak are also central motifs within the novel. Many of today’s upcoming college students can  can find an understanding and empathy with the characters in Murakami’s novel. Not only does this narrative strike up a cord within our psyches of our own experiences with heartbreak, relationships, college life, and anxiety of the future— “Norwegian Wood” is a classic and Toru’s experiences can translate and parallel to any era of adolescence.

Whether you are a young adult in the 60’s, 80’s, or the10’s, these idyllic experiences translate across the board with the “coming of age” human experience. If you are looking for a summer read that is youth centered, nostalgic, and beautifully written, this is the one.

Be the first to comment on "Norwegian Wood – A Coming of Age Tale for All Time"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.