2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

I love Murakami so much that Kafka on the Shore is in my all time top ten. Norwegian Wood seems to be one of his lesser known books. I had heard very little about it before I started to read, but had been warned that it would be depressing.

Norwegian Wood is primarily set in a Japanese University during the 1960s. It is a coming of age novel that has a strong resemblance to The Bell Jar. In both novels the issue of suicide is prominent, but Norwegian Wood is slightly darker. 

The story focuses on Toru, who has a complex, but touching relationship with Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki, who tragically committed suicide.

People looking for Murakami’s amazing imaginative narrative may be disappointed by this book, as it is a straight, simple story, that many people speculate as being largly autobiographical. As with The Bell Jar, I didn’t find it as depressing as I expected – I was never moved to tears, and I felt that the novel focused on hope, rather than tragedy.

Murakami’s skill for character development is evident, and I found it very easy to empathise with Toru’s difficult situation. I loved the complexity of the emotion present in this book – it more than made up for the simplicity of the story.

Murakami’s wisdom is scattered throughout the book. One quote that particularly stood out for me was:

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.

Overall, I felt that this was a well written book, but I prefer the uniqueness of Murakamis’s more imaginative books.



What did you think of Norwegian Wood?

Which is your favourite Murakami book?

72 replies on “Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami”

I read one of Murakami’s books, I can’t even remember which one it is now, but I wasn’t all that crazy about it. It was a while ago though. You’re making me think I should give him another try. Should I try your favorite, Kafka on the Shore?

Meghan, It is possible that you tried one of his straight books, so didn’t find anything special about it. I think you should try Kafka on the Shore, unless you are a big cat lover in which case it may be better to start with another one (bad things happen to cats in Kafka!)

The Wind up Bird Chronicle is his most famous book and is supposed to be amazing, but I haven’t got round to reading that one yet. The downside of Bird Chronicle is that it is very long, so it might be better to start wih Kafka. I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

I’ve not read any of Murakami’s books yet, so I have no expectations or basis of comparison. I really need to read my one book for the Japanese Reading Challenge, and originally had planned to read the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (which I have on my shelf). But I also bought Kafka on the Shore on my Kindle, and that one is sort of calling my name. I intend to read one of them by year end! (BTW, just had to tell you that I bought Fingersmith on my Kindle as well. Waters is seriously growing on me.)

Sandy, I really hope that you manage to read a Murakami before the end of the year – I will be really interested to hear what you think of his books. They are like nothing else you’ve read before!

I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve fallen in love with Waters – you’ll have read more of her books than me before long!

I’d disagree that Norwegian Wood is one of his lesser-known books; it was the first I bought although I’ve yet to read it! Of the four I’ve read so far, my favourite is The Wind-up Bird Chronicle but I also really enjoyed After Dark. I can’t wait to read Kafka on the Shore! Why is there never enough time to read all the books that we want to read? Sigh.

Claire, It is interesting that you think Norwegian Wood is one of his commoner books – I haven’t heard it mentioned much before – everyone seems to talk about Kafka and WUBC. I hope to read WUBC soon – I have no idea why I haven’t read it yet!

I meant to say why I thought it was more well-known in my comment but forgot. I think the title is more ingrained on consciousness because of the connection with The Beatles, which is why it perhaps springs to mind more readily for me. Also, the copy that I picked up was part of the Vintage Eastern series a few years ago in which key texts by key Eastern writers were showcased; it seems telling to me that Vintage chose Norwegian Wood to publish instead of his other works and that’s why I thought it was better-known. However, it could also be because it is more straight (and perhaps accessible) than his more surreal works and nothing to do with its popularity.

Claire, You are right – I just checked on Amazon and Norwegian Wood is selling better than Kafka and WUBC. I find that very strange, but you might be right about the accessibilty. I haven’t read After Dark yet, but I have a copy of that too – I think I’ll save that for after WUBC though.

Hi Jackie, I was having a think about it and Norwegian Wood is probably well-known as opposed to less because it was the novel that propelled him to his literary superstar status in Japan (which compelled him to leave) although it was undoubtedly The Wind-up Bird Chronicle that brought him international acclaim.

Murakami scares me to death. I don’t know why, but for some reason he’s very intimidating. I have Kafka On the Shore on my list of must-reads, but I keep putting it off. :/

Amanda, There is no need to be scared of Murakami. His writing isn’t difficult to read – it is just that some of the things that happen are very weird! I hope that you get round to Kafka soon and enjoy it as much as I did.

I am not familiar with his books, but I must say I am intrigued now. Not sure if I should start with this more “straight” one or go for the oft mentioned Kafka on the Shore..

Caite, I’m not sure. I think I’d head straight for Kafka, as Norwegian Wood is such a normal novel that you won’t have any idea why people rave about Murakami. You may well enjoy reading Norwegian Wood, but I think you’d like to know what his amazing imagination is like! Enjoy!

I love that quote! My plan was to start the Japanese Lit challenge with After Dark, but Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (which I loved) somehow got ahead of it. I’m still looking forward to finally reading Murakami, but it may not be until next month.

I was hoping you were going to review this soon when I saw it on your “currently reading” list. I have not yet read Murakami but, like so many others, he’s been on my TBR list for a while. I have him at the top of my list for the challenge “Authors/Books to Read Before You Die”. I have been puzzling over which of Murakami’s books to read and had just about settled on “Kafka at the Shore”. I really appreciate your comments here and, although I will read Norwegian Wood someday, I think I’ll go for Kafka. I’m happy to know you liked the book so much.
Thanks for another fantastic review, Jackie!

Amy, Thank you for the kind words! I hope that you enjoy Kafka, but having seen your blog I advise you to proceed with caution. You clearly have a deep love for cats and Kafka isn’t the best book to read if you would find it distressing to read about the harming of cats. It might be better for you to start with a different book.

Murakami is quite popular in Denmark and all his works has been translated from Japanese to Danish. I have never read anything by him, but am thinking about it. Not so much that I’ve actually been out ther buying any of his works, but just thinking 🙂

I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a couple years ago and by the end, I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t even begin to interpret whatever it meant. It seemed like it had a story at first, then it just went nowhere besides weird-ville. Ugh, I still get frustrated thinking about that book!

Kari, I haven’t read WUBC, so I’m afraid I can’t enlighten you. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy it – I guess Murakami isn’t for everyone.

I love Murakami, I’m glad you enjoyed this one! I read it a few years back but don’t remember it very well. Kafka certainly sits with you, this one fades after a while, unfortunately. I’d love to reread it though.

I think Haruki Murakami is the kind of author you either like or dislike. Some of my friends really adore and love his books and yet some people say that it’s hard to grasp his ideas. Norwegian Wood is my first read of Murakami’s works. Norwegian Wood is one of his famous novels. I didn’t enjoy it as much at the first read but I reread it and found it impressive. This novel is now been adapted into movie and probably in 2010 you can watch the movie. I read chinese translation of his novels by the way. I don’t know if you can find all his books in english but most of his books have been translated into chinese.

Linna, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time. I didn’t realise it was being filmed. That is great to know, so thank you for pointing that out! I’m not sure it will make a good film though – it seems a bit too quiet for that. I’ll be interested to watch it though.

I think all but his latest book have been translated into English now, but it is great to know that you can also get them in Chinese.

I have only read Kafka on the Shore, and while I really liked it, I find that there are other Japanese authors that I love so much more than him. So I guess I will get to his other books when I’m done with all the other authors. Like Claire, I’m pining about why there isn’t ever enough time to read everything we want!

Claire, Which Japanese authors do you prefer? Murakami is my favourite, but I also love Natsuo Kirino. I like reading almost all Japanese books though, so I can imagine there are lots more great authors out there.

I’ve always heard great things about Murakami’s works but have yet to read anything by him. It seems like Kafka on the Shore would be a good start and maybe Norwegian Wood a later addition. Thanks for the review!

I read After Dark last year and quite enjoyed it – although the writing style and content is not something I would normally enjoy. I have been told by a friend to stay right away from Kafka (I love cats!) but this one might be one of his I would enjoy.

What can I say – I’m on the Love them side – I’ve been slowly making my way through all Murakami’s novels and short stories. It took me a while to find a genre I could loose myself in, and somehow Murakami appeals. After Dark was one of my firtst. I dont recommend Kafka (due to the violence) but I did enjoy it, Sputnik Sweatheart was a totally different kind of novel, and Blind Willow was a great collection of short stories. I’m about to start WUBC and looking forward to the escapism. If your interested in Non Fiction – his ‘underground’ was also a fascinating look into the terrosit attacks on Tokyos’ Underground. Great review Jackie.

Tamara, I am a bit wary of Underground, as I think I might find it distressing. I’m sure I’ll get round to it in the end, but for now it is on the bottom of the pile! It is great to find someone that loves Murakami as much as you do. I hope that you enjoy the new one when it comes out (hopefully late in 2010?)

Hi, Jackie,
I rarely jump out of RSS. But I do want to share my opinions about Japanese literature. I like Natsuo Kirino as well. I also recommend Otsu-ichi’s novels. I like his quirky stories. Yoko Ogawa is another brilliant story-teller. If you like reading prose or short stories, Mukoda Kuniko is a good choice. And Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro is a must read. I love this book. 😀

Linna, Thank you for jumping out of the RSS feed! I already have Yogo Ogawa and Natsume Soseki in the TBR pile, but I haven’t heard of the others. I’ll go and take a look at them now – thank you for the recommendations!

Norwegian Wood is my first and most favourite Murakami. But it’s a bit hard to explain why. Maybe because it’s tragically sad and very Japanese. I don’t think I cried too. The sadness was more lingering than bursting out.

I read somewhere that this book was actually the one that shot him to fame, though the style is not like his usual surreal works.

mee, I think this is the book that shot him to fame, but while it is very good it won’t get close to Kafka for me. Norwegian Wood was just too simple and I think I will forgotten much of it within a few months.

I must read some more Murakami as I loved Kafka on the Shore but then really really struggled (in fact its still on the shelves half read) with his book Underground which is about the gasing on the trains out there. Maybe should pick that up again and finally finish it off, thats his non-fiction though.

Simon, Why did you struggle with Underground? I think I’d find it difficult to read in the respect that I wouldn’t want to go on any underground trains again! I’m avoiding it for now – at least until I move away from London, or run out of other Murakami books to read!

Thank you so much for this review, Jackie 😀 I’ve been trying to find out more about Norwegian Wood, but didn’t find much. Now that I’ve read your review, I definitely want to read it! I’m going to blame you for a new addition to my wish list 😉

Kay, I’m pleased to hear that you enjoy Murakami. I’m not sure I’d have fallen in love with Murakami if this had been my first, but I’m very happy it worked for you.

We read Norwegian Wood in my book group earlier this year. It was my first experience of Murakama, and I have to say that it hasn’t had me rushing out to read more. Yes, some of the writing is beautiful, but on the whole I found it self indulgent, and generally lacking in any kind of joy. That may be hard when the theme of suicide runs throughout, but ultimatly I found myself not caring really what happened to the characters, and just wishing they would get on with it.

henrietta, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I know exactly what you mean – Norwegian Wood is quite a dark book and I can see why it might put you off reading more Murakami. I urge you to try reading Kafka on the Shore (unless you are a big cat lover), as then you will see why people love his writing so much – his imagination is amazing. Kafka mixes joy with the darkness, increasing both emotions. It is an amazing book.

I’ll have to put Norwegian Wood on my to-read list. Kafka on the Shore was very enjoyable. Did you ever get around to reading Snow? I noticed it was on your Orbis Terrarum list, and it was one of the most well-written, thought-provoking books I’ve read this year.

Mome Rath, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time!

I’m afraid that I haven’t got round to Snow yet – it is near to the top of the pile, and I hope to get to it in December (I thought that winter would be the best time to read it!). I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed it. He has a new book coming out in January, so that is something to look forward to.

I hope you enjoy Norwegian Wood.

That’s the only novel I’ve read by Murakami (I read some of his short stories) and I really enjoyed it. But I haven’t decided to read any other novel by this author, because I’ve got the feeling that “Norwegian Wood” is enough, I don’t feel the need to explore Murakami any further.

Sylwia, I think that if you stop reading Murakami now you’ll be missing out on his best books. Norwegian Wood is so different to his others, that you won’t get any idea of how wonderfully imaginative he can be. I hope you decide to read another one.

Do you know, is it the same Toru as in Wind up Bird Chronicle? This sounds wonderful. I’d be interested to read some more ‘straightforward’ Murakami if you know what I mean. I love his imaginitive style but sometimes it can be too surreal!

Novel Insights, I haven’t read WUBC yet, so don’t know if this is the same Toru. It would be great to hear what you think of his more simple books. I hope you enjoy it!

Gosh, sorry it’s taken me a while to get here. This is what I was waiting for. The Bell Jar is an interesting comparison, and I’m glad you made it, because I’ve always worried that people would lump it in with Houellebecq’s Atomised in the sense that most of the suicides happen to women, so there’s a danger (as with Houellebecq) that the book be seen as misogynistic.

I agree it’s the least imaginative of Murakami’s works in the sense of having imaginary elements to it, but it’s my 3rd favourite (and in my all time top 10) above Kafka. I love the simplicity of it – and the passages in the asylum are almost unmatched anywhere in literature for their simple, understated power.

Dan, I haven’t read Atomised, so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two. I don’t think that Norwegian Wood comes across as misogynistic though. It is depressing, but I don’t think it portrays either sex as superior.

I really loved this book, it’s the first/only Murakami book I’ve read, and I thought it was so phenomenal, one of those books when some of the words echo your own thoughts like the author is standing just behind you. What other books of his would you recommend?

The Reader
I’m a Bookworm

the reader, I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed this book. To be honest I don’t think you can go wrong with any of his books. I think that if you like this one you will like them all. My favourite is Kafka on the Shore, but steer clear if you are a big cat lover!

I think Norwegian Wood was the first Murakami book that I read, so it didn’t disappoint me at all. Then I read his other books and they’re so wonderful weird that I fell in love with him in a different way..

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