Norwegian Wood (novel)

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Norwegian Wood  

UK cover
Author Haruki Murakami
Original title ノルウェイの森
Noruwei no mori
Translator Jay Rubin
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Genre(s) Coming of age novel
Publisher Vintage International
Publication date 1987
Published in
Media type print (paperback)
Pages 296 (US Paperback)
400 (UK Paperback)
ISBN ISBN 0-375-70402-7 (US edition)
ISBN 0-09-944882-3 (UK edition)
ISBN 4-0620-3516-2 (JP edition)

Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森 Noruwei no Mori?) is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.[1] The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality.[2] The story's protagonist and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a freshman university student living in Tokyo.[3] Through Toru's reminiscences we see him develop relationships with two very different women — the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko, and the outgoing, lively Midori.[4]

The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, a time when Japanese students, like those of many other nations, were protesting against the established order.[5] While it serves as the backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold, Murakami (through the eyes of Toru and Midori) portrays the student movement as largely weak-willed and hypocritical.

Part of the novel was originally published in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman under the title Firefly.[6]

Norwegian Wood was hugely popular with Japanese youth and made Murakami somewhat of a superstar in his native country (apparently much to his dismay at the time).[7][8]

Despite its mainstream popularity in Japan, Murakami's contemporary readership saw Norwegian Wood as an unwelcome departure from his by-then established style of energetic prose flavoured with the unexpected and supernatural (as exemplified by Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, released two years earlier); as translator Jay Rubin observes in the translator's note to the 2000 English edition, Norwegian Wood retains much of the complexity and symbolism characteristic of Murakami's work and is thus "by no means just a love story."


[edit] The novel's title

The original Japanese title Noruwei no Mori, is the standard Japanese translation of the title of The Beatles song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.[9] The song is often mentioned in the novel, and is the favourite song of the character Naoko. Mori in the Japanese title translates into English as "forest", not the material "wood", even though the song lyrics clearly refer to the latter. Forest settings and imagery are also significantly present in the novel.

[edit] Characters in Norwegian Wood

  • Toru Watanabe — The main character and narrator. He is a Tokyo college student of average ability, majoring in drama but without reason or conviction for doing so. Unlike most students, he is interested in Western, and in particular, American literature. He is Kizuki's best friend, and develops romantic relationships with Naoko, and later, Midori.
  • Naoko — a beautiful but emotionally fragile woman who is Kizuki's girlfriend, but becomes involved with Toru after Kizuki's death. Naoko's older sister committed suicide at age 17, which, along with Kizuki's suicide, has a lasting effect on Naoko's emotional stability.
  • Midori Kobayashi — a vivacious, outgoing classmate of Toru. She and her sister help their father run a small bookstore. She originally had a boyfriend but develops feelings for Toru as she gets to know him more, and eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, setting Toru in a tough situation.
  • Reiko Ishida — a music teacher and a close friend of Naoko who stays with her at the asylum. As a result of lifelong mental problems that wrecked her professional musical career and later her marriage, she attempts to advise Toru and Naoko in their relationship.
  • Kizuki — Toru's best friend in high school, and Naoko's first boyfriend. Kizuki took his own life when he was 17.
  • Nagasawa — a diplomacy student at the elite University of Tokyo who befriends Toru through a shared love of The Great Gatsby. Nagasawa is unusually charismatic and is complex in both his ideals and personal relationships. Often given to debauchery, Toru initially goes along with him to have intercourse with random girls Nagasawa picks up, but later he just stays on as Nagasawa's on/off friend.
  • Hatsumi — the long-suffering girlfriend of Nagasawa. A kind woman by nature, she tries to offer advice to Toru, but Toru is reluctant to trust her or Nagasawa, for fear of the situation with Naoko and Kizuki being repeated. (Outside the story of the book, she will get married, two years after Nagasawa leaves for Germany, only to commit suicide after another two years by slashing her wrists.)
  • "Storm Trooper" — Toru's dormitory roommate who is obsessed with cleanliness, and who is majoring in cartography in preparation for a career at the Geographical Survey Institute of Japan. He later moves out, leaving their room entirely to Toru until he moves out of the dorm altogether.
  • Itoh — an art student whom Toru meets after moving out of the dorm he shared with Nagasawa and Storm Trooper. The two share a love of Boris Vian. He has a girlfriend in his hometown of Nagasaki, but her unease about Itoh's chosen career leads him to unease about their relationship.
  • Momoko (Momo) Kobayashi — Midori's sister.
  • Mr. Kobayashi — Midori's widowed father. Midori had initially said that he had immigrated to Uruguay, but that later turns out to be a joke; Mr. Kobayashi was actually in a hospital in Tokyo, with brain cancer. When Midori and Toru visit him, Toru briefly stays to take care of him alone. He later dies, and his daughters sell the bookstore to move to new quarters.
  • Sir Nakano — the nickname given to the head of Toru's dorm, a man who is popularly rumoured to be a former spy.
  • Uniform — the nickname given to Nakano's assistant, known for always wearing a school uniform.

[edit] Plot Synopsis

A 37-year-old Toru Watanabe has just arrived in Hamburg, Germany. When he hears an orchestral cover of the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood," he is suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of loss and nostalgia. He thinks back to the 1960s, when so much happened that touched his life.

Toru, his classmate Kizuki, and Kizuki's girlfriend Naoko are the best of friends. Kizuki and Naoko are particularly close and feel as if they are soulmates, and Toru seems more than happy to be their enforcer. This idyllic existence is interrupted by the unexpected suicide of Kizuki on his 17th birthday. Kizuki's death deeply touches both surviving friends; Toru feels the influence of death everywhere, while Naoko feels as if some integral part of her has been permanently lost. The two of them spend more and more time together, trying to console one another, and they eventually fall in love. On the night of Naoko's 20th birthday, she feels especially vulnerable, and they consummate their love. Afterwards, Naoko leaves Toru a letter saying that she needs some time apart and that she is quitting college to go to a sanatorium.

The blossoming of their love is set against a backdrop of civil unrest. The students at Toru's college go on strike and call for a revolution. Inexplicably, the students end their strike and act as if nothing had happened, which enrages Toru as a sign of hypocrisy.

Toru befriends a fellow drama classmate, Midori Kobayashi. She is everything that Naoko is not — outgoing, vivacious, supremely self-confident. Despite his love for Naoko, Toru finds himself attracted to Midori as well. Midori is attracted to him also, and their friendship grows during Naoko's absence.

Toru visits Naoko at her secluded mountain sanatorium near Kyoto. There he meets Reiko Ishida, another patient there who has become Naoko's confidante. During this and subsequent visits, Reiko and Naoko reveal more about their past: Reiko talks about her search for sexual identity, and Naoko talks about the unexpected suicide of her older sister several years ago.

Now back in Tokyo, Toru unintentionally alienates Midori through both his lack of consideration of her wants and needs, and his continuing thoughts about Naoko. He writes a letter to Reiko, asking for her advice about his conflicted affections for both Naoko and Midori. He doesn't want to hurt Naoko, but he doesn't want to lose Midori either. Reiko counsels him to seize this chance for happiness and see how his relationship with Midori turns out.

A later letter informs Toru that Naoko has taken her own life. Toru, grieving and in a daze, wanders aimlessly around Japan, while Midori — whom he hasn't kept in touch with — wonders what has happened to him. After about a month of fugue, he returns to the Tokyo area, where Reiko is visiting. With her supporting him and perform sexual intercourse together, he comes to the conclusion that Midori is the most important person in his life. Toru calls Midori out of the blue to declare his love for her. What happens following this is never revealed — Midori's response is characteristically (by this point) cold, yet the fact that she does not explicitly cut Toru off at that point (as she did before) leaves things open.

[edit] Allusions/references to other works

  • When Toru first moves into the dorm, he is struck by the punctual raising of the flag of Japan and playing of the Japanese national anthem by Sir Nakano and Uniform, two characters whom he finds somewhat ridiculous.
  • In his initial meetings with Naoko and Reiko at Ami, Toru is reading Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain. The premise behind Mann's novel mirrors the situation of Toru's friends: members of a community of patients who wish to set themselves apart from the rest of society. In Mann's novel, the characters isolate themselves in a tuberculosis sanitorium; in Murakami's novel, the characters separate themselves from the greater society due to mental illness and also a feeling of not fitting in elsewhere.

[edit] English translations

Norwegian Wood has been translated into English twice.[1] The first was by Alfred Birnbaum (who translated many of Murakami's earlier novels) and was published in 1989 in Japan by Kodansha as part of the Kodansha English Library series.[10] Like other books in this pocket-sized series, the English text was intended for Japanese students of English, and even featured an appendix listing the Japanese text for key English phrases encountered in the novel. Notably, this edition kept the two-volume division of the original Japanese version and its color scheme — the first volume having a red cover, the second green (the first UK edition in 2000 would also keep this division and appearance). This earlier translation has been discontinued in Japan.

The second translation, by Jay Rubin, is the authorized version for publication outside Japan and was first published in 2000 by Harvill Press in the UK, and Vintage International in the USA.[1]

The two translations differ somewhat. Of note, there are some differences in nicknames: Toru's roommate, for example, is called "Kamikaze" in the Birnbaum translation, and "Storm Trooper" in the Rubin translation.

[edit] Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

It was announced in July 2008 that Tran Anh Hung would direct an adaptation of the novel. The film will start shooting in February 2009 and is expected to be released in 2010.[11]

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c Winterton, Bradley (January 7 2001). "Exploring the map of one's inner existence". Taipei Times. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  2. ^ Bauer, Justin (October 5 2000). "This Bird Has Flown". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  3. ^ Poole, Steve (May 27 2000). "Tunnel vision". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  4. ^ Lindquist, Mark (June 3 2001). "Japanese author's focus, flavor appeal to younger interests". Seattle Times. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  5. ^ Houpt, Simon (August 1 2008). "The loneliness of the long-distance writer". Globe and Mail. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  6. ^ Rafferty, Terrence (September 15 2006). "Review: Blind willow, sleeping woman". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  7. ^ Lewis-Kraus, Gideon (February 6 2005). "Convergence of separate odysseys". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  8. ^ Naparstek, Ben (June 24 2006). "The lone wolf". The Age. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  9. ^ Nimura, Janice (September 24 2000). "Rubber Souls". New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 
  10. ^ Classe, Olive (2000). Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English. Taylor & Francis. pp. 728. ISBN 1884964362. 
  11. ^ Gray, Jason (July 31 2008). "Tran to adapt Norwegian Wood for Asmik Ace, Fuji TV". Screen Daily. Retrieved on 2008-12-20. 

3. Book cover photograph by Markus Klinko and Indrani

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