Noruwei no mori
|Genre(s)||Coming of age novel|
|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)
|Dewey Decimal||895.6/35 21|
|LC Classification||PL856.U673 N6713 2000|
Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森 Noruwei no Mori ) is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. The story's protagonist and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a freshman university student living in Tokyo. 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.
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. 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.
Despite its mainstream popularity in Japan, Murakami's established 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."
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. 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. This seemingly odd translation is based on the official translation of the song's title. Forest settings and imagery are also significantly present in the novel.
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. The middle-aged Reiko stays with Toru, and they have sexual intercourse. It is through this experience, and the intimate conversation that Toru and Reiko share that night, that he comes to realise 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.
Norwegian Wood has been translated into English twice. 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. 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 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.
It was announced in July 2008 that Tran Anh Hung would direct an adaptation of the novel. The film stars Kenichi Matsuyama as Watanabe, Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko and Kiko Mizuhara as Midori, and is expected to be released in autumn 2010.
Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami and translated by Jay Rubin is a Japanese novel focused on the theme of relationships. It was the author's first mainstream success in his native land, and one of the most popular translated Japanese novels in the Western Hemisphere. It is narrated by the character of Toru Watanabe.