Lyceum — Norwegian Wood

No truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami was a very stressful read. I had been meaning to read Murakami for a while. The impetus came with a friend’s recommendation. It’s a very intimate and tragic book. It follows Toru a College student living in Tokyo and his experiences with love, death, responsibility and a tragic past. It’s a coming of age story, but it’s so much more than that.

Death surrounds all plot and characters like thick mist. Their life and choices have been shaped by a difficult past. Toru deciding to get away from it, Naoko forever in its grip, Midori feigning ignorance and Reiko accepting it for what it is.

The dead will always be dead, but we have to go on living.

To successfully traverse the forest of adulthood you have to transition from the meadow of blissful ignorance, innocence, and childhood. The transition is difficult and treacherous, with a deep infinite well that you can fall into if not taking care of where you step. Some make it, some don’t.

I’ve never once thought about how I was going to die,” she said. “I can’t think about it. I don’t even know how I’m going to live.

Toru’s character elicits a lot of empathy personally. His thoughts, interests, desires, perspective, detached nature with regards to his everyday life hit dangerously close to home. His love for Naoko which later evolves into a sense of responsibility is inspiring. I relate to him very deeply. It’s hard for me to articulate why. Parts of his character are very similar to mine.

Nobody likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.

The writing is overwhelming. It’s like being in an ethereal dream world, one that’s far away, out of reach. I had this feeling especially after Toru’s first visit to Naoko in the hills. It felt like a perfect little world, in a different plane of existence reserved only for them to be happy in.

There is a lot of intimacy in the novel and it’s described vividly. It might turn off some people and might even disgust others. In my opinion, the novel does a very good job of describing desire, lust and sexual intimacy. It describes it naturally and casually, the way it’s usually looked at in adult life.

I loved the book, all of it.

Norwegian Wood, the Beatles song summarizes the book perfectly.

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…

She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,

So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine

We talked until two and then she said, “It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.

I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown

So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.

– The Beatles