Book Review – Norwegian Heights

az norwegian woods

Like always magical realism has been his forte, Murakami this time has shifted his focus to a simple coming-of-age bildungsroman story. Murakami’s pen-style here has a deep bearing on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, as I perceived, I may be wrong though. However, what distinctly meets the eye is the straight forwardness of the story-flow. A triangular whose every angle have been caressed with equal attention one should say.

Like mountain water seeps from old rocks, memories happen to a 37 year old Toru Watanabe thereby kissing away the blues of loneliness. “These were strange days, now that I look back at them. In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.”

Toru recalls his college days set against the backdrop of Japan’s chaotic late sixties student movement in Tokyo, the city whose effects waxed and waned in Toru’s otherwise non-significant student life. Naoko is in the centre stage of his recollection who had been a friend from Kobe and with whom he eventually fell in love although they shared a traumatic experience of losing Kizuki, a common thread between them to death. Kizuki, who’d been a best friend to Toru and a lover to Naoko had committed suicide on his birthday thus tragedy cropped in to snap all connections between Toru and Naoko for years ahead.

As Kizuki’s death split Naoko to pieces, she lost herself in time only to bump into Toru in his otherwise idyllic student-life in Tokyo. Since Naoko lived in the past, Toru tries tooth and nail to bring fragile Naoko to life and falls in love with her in the process. “It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself”

Though it seemed all difficult to rise above Kizuki’s ashes, the pair helped each other to make the cut but suddenly driven by the guilt of making love to Toru in an impulse, Naoko cuts all connections and disappears on him to a sanatorium.

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Toru runs into a blithesomely romantic Midori, whose lively nature gives Watanabe’s life a new spin. Toru finds her the polar opposite to Naoko and goes on to explore more about her thereby crafting a soft corner for her in his heart unknowingly. “like a small animal that has popped into the world with the coming of spring,” Midori makes sure to pulls all Toru’s attention towards her brisk lifestyle making him forget the unattainable Naoko’s love and mourning the loss of his best friend. Midori comes as a gush of fresh air as though she was truly needed at this moment. She completes the triangle skilfully whatsoever.

Symbolism is largely at play in Norwegian Woods as any other Murakami novel. To say, in the first chapter while Toru and Naoko were on a walk in a field, Naoko points out at a well, if fell into that, it could make anyone disappear in oblivion, never to return again. While in another chapter Toru is seen coveting at a firefly’s light beyond his reach.

Beatles’ songs like “Norwegian Wood” and ‘Nowhere Man”, that defines the beat of Toru’s life, plays the second lead as heroes in the novel. His conflicting love for Naoko and Midori, one unattainable and the other unacknowledged, keeps the ball rolling. I never felt my attention dropping throughout the read. The novel pushes a question in the reader’s court, as many of the characters in the novel chose death over life, what will be Watanabe’s pick?

In contrast to other works from the author, Norwegian Woods is remarkably brilliant for the simplicity of the narrative that grows on the reader and lingers for quite a good deal of time.


About the author: Shreyashi Das

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