Summary: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman Midori.
“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
Since Norwegian Wood is so popular, this is by no means a review, but just some thoughts on the novel. When I read this novel a year ago, my thought was basically: “What kind of story is this?” “Is this love or sex?” “Why can’t everyone in the book just make up their minds already?” Maybe it has too many layers of meanings that I couldn’t decipher? I decided, then, that Murakami was not the author for me. But people grow up, and so am I. When I read it again for one of my classes this spring, I realized that it’s not the multilayers of meanings that make the book popular. It is the power to touch people’s hearts.
A thought on Toru and Midori’s relationship
Love, besides sex, is one of two main elements in Norwegian Wood; and they don’t necessarily go together. The love in Norwegian Wood is opposite to a typical one that you would imagine on American TV Shows. The idea that two people must end up together if they love each other, and that only because of love should two people be together, I never realized, is a very modern and Westernized idea. No, I’m not saying that the idea of love in Norwegian Woods is old or outdated. In fact, Murakami is known for his references to Western culture: isn’t Norwegian Wood named after a Beatles’ songs? What I’m trying to get at is that we are so used to “the ideal love” that based on romantic love ALONE that we wouldn’t expect or tolerate anything less. Because of that, all the characters in Norwegian Wood seem so selfish to me at first glance, especially in the way Midori defines love and how Toru seems to think of Midori as a second choice.
“Waiting for the perfect love?”
“No, even I know better than that. I’m looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I tell you I want to eat strawberry shortcake. And you stop everything you’re doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortcake out to me. And I say I don’t want it anymore and throw it out the window. That’s what I’m looking for.”
But don’t be fooled so quickly, because these characters are unreliable and don’t always stick to their words. Midori says she is looking for selfishness, and Toru says he needs more time; but can you see what they are willing to sacrifice for each other? For Midori, it is obvious: cooking, confessing and waiting for him AT THE SAME TIME knowing he still has feelings for another girl (?!) Like seriously, that is A LOT. But for Toru, I think it is more subtle: the way he clings onto her, watches over her dying father, puts her to sleep and writes her letters. Others can argue that the way Toru treats Midori is much less romantic and he is kind to everybody. But Toru is definitely drawn to Midori, not because of how nice she treated him, but because of her personality.
What I feel for Naoko is a tremendously quiet and gentle and transparent love, but what I feel for Midori is a wholly different emotion. It stands and walks on its own, living a breathing and throbbing and shaking me to the roots of my being.
There are also of descriptions about Midori with her funny, eccentric and honest personality, which is many times associated with life. This is what makes Toru drawn to her. In a way, she represents hope – a hope that heals Toru and helps him cling to life. So in a way, love also means healing, in whatever ways possible: cooking, telling lies, watching dirty movies, making sick jokes, taking care of loved ones.
And so, I said it wrong in the beginning. Norwegian Wood actually has three main elements: love, sex and HEALING. But you have to read till the end.
Hope you enjoy! xD
Side note: Norwegian Wood has a movie made by Tran Anh Hung that you can find the trailer here. Why mention it last? Because although it is such a visually stunning movie, many of the chemistry and healing aspect between Toru and Midori mentioned above were lost. (ಥ_ʖಥ)