Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

It was Stephen Hawking who once said that quiet people have the loudest minds, and Nowegian Wood is a celebration of that fact. When Toru Watanabe hears his favourite Beatles song at the airport, he finds himself transported back to his university days. Living in an all-male dorm in Tokyo in the late 1960s, he is struggling to comprehend the suicide of his childhood best friend Kizuki, while he slowly and painfully falls in love with both Naoko, the quiet girlfriend of Kizuki, and Midori, a free spirited young woman. Along the way, he makes all kinds of unusual friendships and sees glimpses into people at their best, and at their worst.

Norwegian Wood is a book that is equal parts sad and beautiful. I loved the glimpse into the depiction of university life that wasn't all about parties and social status, identity politics, or about trying to infiltrate various groups. Toru just happens to be studying, but his life goes well beyond what is happening on campus. His friendships are few, but often intense and he gets intimate glimpses into the personal lives of the other characters, including Reiko, who, for me, was the most difficult character to stomach. These things are highly subjective, of course, but I got a sense that Reiko was an unreliable narrator. What was her hold over Naoko? And was she dishonest to Toru or simply delusional about her past? I suspect it is up to the reader to decide.

A slow burn, with complex characters, heartbreaking situations and moments of beauty. 

Recommended.

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