Edited by Vanishree
TW:Mention of suic*de.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami is a quintessential novel about growing up, peppered with the pain of loss, and the inevitability of growing up. The novel is named after The Beatles’ song, which perfectly captures the nostalgic, retro and reminiscent vibe of the ’60s. This book revolves around the concepts of self, relativity, and time On the surface, this book is simple and slightly retrospective, however, on a deeper level, you notice the book engaging deeply with elements of the self; such as human emotions, age, memory, and the importance of remembrance.
When it comes to the concept of ‘Self,’ Toru takes the story forward defining his journey through emotional turmoil, and eventually, growth. He starts out as a stoic, young teenager who can’t make sense of his feelings. His journey evolves into him understanding the depth of life and existence. He experiencesitsfragility and imbalance through, first, the suicide of his best friend, Kizuki, then the love of his life, Naoko. The importance and impermanence of human attachment and the powerlessness of love are exemplified. His journey of discovering his self begins with Kizuki’s suicide, which impacts him greatly, but he never learns how to express it, or even accept it. His relationship with his best friend, Midori, too, grows from one of distance and fogginess – to one of honesty and raw expression of pain and confusion, and his truthful acceptance of the pain and loneliness that surrounds him. Through the chapters, we see his journey evolve into a recollection of melancholic memories of the past, met with the same patterns in the present. Over the course of the story, we can see that the theme of death and life are constant and persisting, and we witness Toru learning to accept that both of these are dynamic and ever-changing. This is perfectly encapsulated by a quote from the book, “Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.”(Murakami, Norwegian Wood, p.25) and is something Toru finally learns to accept by the end of the book.
The theme of relativity is explored through the parallels in characters and situations in this book. As Toru grows up, he meets several people who act as reminders of people he once knew, before they parted ways with him forever. One such example is Toru’s best friend at college, Nagasawa, who reminds him greatly of Kizuki. This parallel is not drawn based on a similar personality, but on a similar situation, where, Nagasawa’s girlfriend, who Toru is inexplicably drawn to kills herself too. Many such parallels are drawn in this book, but the concept of ‘reality’ is embodied in the way Toru deals with death differently each time it occurs, and how the parallels it draws upon impact him individually. In the end, he comes up with the conclusion that life truly isn’t different for anyone. In its wicked ways, it is just and moral towards everyone – just as unfair, just as cruel but forgiving and kind, too. Toru spends much of his college time being so consumed in his love for Naoko, who, being Kizuki’s girlfriend at the time of his death, shares Toru’s trauma over losing Kizuki, but in her own quietly twisted way. According to Toru, she spends the years after his death oscillating between a state of being alive and dead. (metaphorically, of course) There are months when she disappears, punctuated by the rare days when she is fully awake and responsive, which, for Toru, tests the relativity of both of these concepts. When, at the end of the book, she kills herself too, Toru very nearly disappears into himself, and for his best friend Midori, he is as good as dead. Relativity is synonymous with subjectivity and that is what this book is to me. How different and unrelated people constantly and unfailingly behave in the same patterns, but still maintain an element of individuality. We see not just Toru’s journey of growing into himself, but everyone’s journeys of life and loss, too.
Lastly, the theme of Time is explored much in the same way as the themes of relativity and self are. As we see Toru become more and more himself, we can compare his growth to that of a snake shedding its skin. Towards the end, we see Toru greatly transformed; almost rebirthed into a mature man, and not just a college-going boy still carrying the burden of his childhood trauma. Time in the book does not follow a linear pattern. Toru often recollects instances as flashbacks and they are not necessarily in chronological order. Due to this, there is always an undertone of melancholia and nostalgia in his memories, and essentially, his words. Even his happiest memories growing up, are tainted with the truth of what is to happen in his future. Through his words, Toru explores the past through the lens of the future it will have, and the present as a faltering and unimportant moment. Although, there are times when the concept of time stands still, as in the case of the various characters’ deaths. Time seems to be frozen and unmoving as Kizuki, according to Toru, will “always be 17”.It highlights the painful truth and inevitability of growing up and marching hand in hand with time.
Norwegian Wood in its essence is a book about romantic love and its realities one has to face but to me, it was so much more. It was the story of a boy who taught me about the importance of self-realization and coping with loss.