“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami
(First publication: 1987 / This edition: Vintage Books 2003)
Taken when I was still living in Tokyo—at Mojo coffee shop at Waseda University
Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.
All my boxes from Tokyo have just arrived, so I am reunited with a lot of my books—making it easier to blog about them. Happy indeed. 🙂
This is the first and only Murakami I’ve read. I was never really interested in his works, even though I lived in Tokyo for 4 years and should’ve had some interest in reading one of the world’s most well-known Japanese writers. I picked this one up because… One day, I was browsing in a bookstore with my boyfriend and he pointed out that Murakami actually went to Waseda University (where I went) and that Murakami also used to live in the dorm that my boyfriend lived in when he went to Waseda—the dorm’s called “Wakeijuku”, a male-only dorm located close to the campus.
He spent probably about two hours explaining to me about his life and experiences at that dorm—and it’s like a whole different culture and world there. It has its history and traditions, that outsiders probably wouldn’t understand too well unless they experience it themselves. I won’t get into the whole dorm stories much, but it seemed pretty… strange. The protagonist, Watanabe, seemed to feel the same as well.
Now, onto the book…
I didn’t like the story at all. I just felt like it was overrated and everything was so predictable. The “depressing vibes” I was anticipating and heard so much about…I just felt like it was nothing new and I wasn’t moved by the story. To me, it’s a coming-of-age story—first touches of love, loss, death, sex, and friendship. Watanabe lost his best friend and ends up developing a relationship with the deceased’s girlfriend, Naoko. Naoko becomes mentally unstable and escapes to a hospital for treatment. Watanabe has to deal with her ups-and-downs and tries to help her with her recovery, but fails.
I know a lot of people love this book and this is probably Murakami’s most well-known book. It was also made into a film. To me, I just felt very indifferent.
However, I enjoyed reading about the protaganist’s descriptions about the areas surrounding the dorm. When I read this, I was either at my apartment (which was close to the university—probably about a 10-minute walk away from both the university and the Wakeijuku dorm) or at the Mojo coffee shop. I read this around the time I was packing for my move back to Thailand. It made me reflect on my life at Waseda University—Watanabe described the paths I walked everyday, the roads I know, the tram I often took (Toden=Arakawa line), and the gardens, parks, and even malls I went to.
Watanabe also talked about fireflies that he’d see at his dorm—they were from the adjacent Hotel Chinzanso. During my years at university, I often heard about the “firefly festivals” that the “Four-Seasons hotel nearby” often held. I had never been to that hotel until my boyfriend took me one day—it’s definitely worth a stroll and a photo session if you are ever around that area. He also took me to see the Wakeijuku dorm and it was just as “strange” as he and Murakami described. I’m just glad I got to BE in that area as I was reading—I just felt so fortunate; kind of a “at the right place and at the right time” feeling.
Anyway, the story… I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone, unless you went to Waseda University or have lived around Waseda, Mejiro, Shinjuku, or just anywhere in Tokyo and want to read a book that’s set there. It’s just another fun way to explore and get in touch with that area.
The book’s just close to heart because it makes me reminisce about my years as a student in Tokyo. I might re-read it again some time soon.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that. (pg.355)
Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene I hardly paid it any attention. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that 18 years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. I was at that age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind. (pg.2-3)
Even so, my memory has grown increasingly dim, and I have already forgotten a number of things. Writing from memory like this, I often feel a pang of dread. What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What is somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?
Be that as it may,it’s all I have to work with. Clutching these faded, fading, imperfect memories to my breast, I go on writing this book with all the desperate intensity of a staving man sucking on bones. This is the only way I know to keep my promise to Naoko. (pg.10)
We were supposed to meet. If not then, some other time. I didn’t have any basis for thinking this: it was just a feeling. (pg. 77)