East Asia Book Review Free Example

Haruki Murakami “Norwegian Wood”

Modern Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has created many interesting works. According to his confession, none of them is autobiographical. It is not everyone’s power to read Murakami, but many readers like his books and their deep thoughts and meanings. Often Murakami’s novels are too long, but they certainly have a very deep philosophy. One of Murakami’s strongest works is the book “Norwegian Wood”. The writer wrote this novel in 1987 and even today, this book is very popular. Thus, the main aims of this review are to present the book’s summary, analysis and discuss other interesting facts that can be learned from the book, including the issues, which the book opens about the concepts and images of Japan.

To begin, it is important to note that the novel “Norwegian Wood” is considered one of the best Murakami’s novels for many reasons, and this novel brought the author a truly worldwide fame. It seems that in many ways, the novel was inspired by the novel “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann, and this detail finds its reflection in the book too because the main hero reads it. It can be said that the novel is very ambiguous. To understand its deep meaning, the reader needs at least a little to penetrate the Japanese mentality, to think about a Japanese flavor, to explore this culture. Then everything falls into place.

After reading the title of the novel, the Beatles lovers will probably recall the song “Norwegian Wood”. Indeed, the content of the novel is often associated with the first lines of this song: “Once I had a girl, or should I say, she once had me”. This song is often mentioned in the novel as the favorite song of one of the heroines, Naoko.

However, in the original, the title of the book is written not in English, but in Japanese: “Noruwei no Mori”, therefore, it can be understood literally: “Norwegian Forest”, that is, a dense forest from which it is difficult to find a way out. Moreover, Murakami explores the theme of the forest and the surrounding nature separately. “Norwegian Wood” contains colorful descriptions of Tokyo quarters, in which the plot takes place, and these descriptions create a state of complete immersion in the described events, helping the readers to plunge into in the Japanese flavor.

The novel begins with the memories of the main character about the events of his past life. These events are illustrated with the words: “I was in love …” and at the end of the first chapter, we can see the words: “The thought fills me with an almost unbearable sorrow. Because Naoko never loved me” (Murakami, 1987). Being more specific in analyzing the book, it can be said that the first chapter with memories is more similar to an epilogue. The author probably had concerns that the novel might be misunderstood. To direct the reader’s thinking to the right track, the author grabs a fragment from the middle of events and comments it, introducing key concepts: love and melancholy.

In comparison with the usual perception, people often associate a feeling of happiness or pleasure with the word “love”. However, in Murakami’s works, love is often associated with a feeling of compassion and remorse, or melancholy and depression. It can be even said that if in his other works the theme of love does not arise so often, then the theme of compassion is present almost everywhere. In such a way, the book “Norwegian Wood” is a very deep and sensual book, the novel that evokes different emotions. This book cannot be called an ordinary novel; it reflects different facets of human perception such as tenderness, the revelation of a wounded heart, sadness, endless melancholy and hope like a timid ray of the winter sun through the clouds.

The awakened nostalgia became the leitmotif of the novel and the mood that remains after reading, like the aftertaste of bitter sake. The book’s genre can be defined as drama, psychology, and love story with deep cultural and historical context. These genres are used to present the life of the hero that is dramatic and full of love adventures. Some readers may consider this story lyrical and touching, while other’s may call it meaningless and insensitive. In any case, it is impossible to stay without inner thoughts about the novel.

Exploring the historical context of the book, it can be said that the novel takes place in 1968-1970, in Tokyo, when students around the world began to struggle against the existing cruel order spread throughout the world, including Japan. Murakami describes the everyday life of an ordinary student in Japan, Toru Watanabe. However, the most important thing in the work is his relationship with two girls who are opposite to each other. Naoko is a smart and spotlessly beautiful girl, but with her own oddities. Midori Kobayashi is active, emotional and tries to take everything from life (Murakami, 1987). In such a way, it can be said that the novel “Norwegian Wood” tells about the human fate in Japan in the second half of the twentieth century. The main issues raised by this novel are the loss of a man and the presence of sex life.

In attempts to understand some issues associated with Japanese culture better, and using Murakami’s novel for these purposes, it can be said that the theme of death runs through many Murakami’s novels, and “Norwegian Wood” is not an exception. In their daily life, the Japanese are always clearly aware of death. Its ideal is simple and clear for the Japanese, unlike for the people of the West, who see disgusting and horrible features in the face of death.

However, when Toru’s friend Kizuki suddenly commits suicide, this fact deeply hurt both people, Toru and Naoko, who loved Kizuki. Watanabe everywhere feels the breath of death, while Naoko feels that some of her essential parts have disappeared. Remembering the fact of the friend’s suicide, Watanabe says that since then he has developed a new image of death. He understood, “Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life. It’s a cliché translated into words, but at the time I felt it not as words but as that knot of air inside me” (Murakami, 1987). In this regard, it can be said that Japanese art enriches not a cruel and savage death, but rather death, which allows a pure spring to appear from the shackles of its terrifying mask. This spring gives rise to many streams that carry their clean water to human world (Pollack, 1992). Even in the case of suicide, in which, it would seem, the man decides everything, fate plays an important role on the path to death, beyond the control of human will.

To continue, the story tells the readers that Naoko refers to Watanabe rather brotherly because she still loves Kizuki. However, Watanabe cannot understand who he needs most, Naoko or Midori. He does not want to lose either one or the other. They are opposite in their characters, but both attract the hero.

Entangled in relations with Naoko and Midori, Watanabe is confused and in doubt. He turns to another friend, Reiko Ishida, for help. She advises him to stay with Midori and see what comes of it. Nevertheless, the hero suddenly learns about the death of Naoko, trying to find out what happened, goes to travel in Japan. When he returns, he realizes that Midori is the main thing that he has in his life. Watanabe believes that in any case, his life would have been the same because it was their destination to meet each other with Midori.

Considering the image of the main hero (Watanabe), it becomes obvious that Haruki Murakami creates his main character in a special way. “Norwegian Wood” introduces two guises of Toru Watanabe – a teenager and a middle-aged man to the reader. The latter is the narrator. Largely, he recalls the past, when he was a university student and when, in fact, there were climaxes in his fate. Toru shares his ideas and tips about the life with the reader using his interesting life as a source of experience. It means that taking into account the philosophical overtones of the work, readers should not only think about the life of Toru, but also draw parallels with their own life.

A special feature of Murakami as a writer is the need to convey the reader about the difficult fate of an ordinary person. Everyone can become the main hero of Murakami’s book. Often, characters occupy different positions; they may differ in age and status. As if to say that no one should be exalted over others, the author equates everyone to the same level. Everyone will decide whether Haruki Murakami is doing the right thing or not.

“Norwegian Wood”, which different researchers called a social drama, tells the story of the young generation living in the mid-1960s. Students at Tokyo University do not want to follow government orders, and therefore oppose the principles. Experiencing difficult times in society and the country as a whole, all of them (using the example of the main character, Toru), are forced to change their points of view inside, changing their way of thinking and their personalities.

This book can be considered a very useful source in realizing different features of Japanese culture because it opens every person those features, which he or she wants to see. “Norwegian Wood” is not intended for a certain circle of readers. The book can be liked both by the adolescent generation and by people who have crossed the line of maturity. The novel is based on the issues of loss and sexual maturity. The protagonist is experiencing the tragedy associated with the suicide of the best friend, and also adjoins the general excitement of the other students, dissatisfied with the level of existence.

As it is well known, Japanese thought has, in contrast to European, clear metaphysical concepts, just as it does not have, in fact, their disclosing and defining texts, leaving the researchers only a lot of hints and clues that help them discover the meaning of both philosophical categories and culture. The concept of sincerity has a great meaning for the Japanese because in Japanese culture there is the idea that the true essence of things is located in their empirical reality (Donahue, 1998). In such a way, the requirements to be sincere are repeated in the novel quite often. However, they should not be taken literally, and should not be considered as recommendations for behavior in everyday life. It is possible to suppose that the novel was written under the influence of the theory of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts traditionally demand sincerity from their patients, right up to stories about dreams and fantasies. Usually such revelations remain secret. It is necessary to take into account the training of psychoanalysts, who know what to do in each case. If we take a closer look at the main character, we can see that he is far from being always sincere in everyday life – both with other people and with himself. Sometimes he hides his thoughts, and sometimes his opinion of himself is at variance with his actions.

In conclusion, we have reviewed the novel “Norwegian Wood”, and have realized that this novel is about life and death, about love and responsibility for own actions and relationships. The book says that a person must leave the world of cruelty at the age of a teenager and not be afraid to live independently, to be himself and answer for own deeds and decisions in front of his relatives. Thus, summarizing, we can say that the book is rich in thoughts, inhibited movements, cold, chilliness, emptiness and loneliness. Murakami, in a stylist peculiar only to him, explores the issues of being and death, of knowing oneself and one’s place in society.

Works Cited

Donahue, R. Japanese Culture and Communication. New York: UP of America, 1998.

Murakami, Haruki. Norwegian Wood. Trans. Alfred Birnbaum. Tokyo: Kodansha Intl., 1987.

Pollack, D. Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel. Cornell University Press, 1992.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

freeessays.club (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: February 4, 2023]
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