Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Page Count/Review Word Count: 394
Norwegian Wood is an interesting one, because it’s one of the few ‘bestsellers‘ that I’ve read of late that have actually lived up to the title. The author does a great job of blending different influences together while forging ahead with his own voice, and the result is the sort of book that captures the spirit of a generation – in this book, the 1960s – while simultaneously standing up proud as a story of its own.
Loosely speaking, it’s all about the relationships between a group of friends and acquaintances in Japan during the swinging sixties. A lot of ‘foreign‘ books (I wrote it like that because ‘foreign’ is a relative term) have a habit of over-taxing the brain – it can often be difficult to differentiate between places and character names when they come from an unfamiliar language. But that’s not the case here – it feels like a town you grew up in, or like revisiting the corridors in the secondary school you attended.
It’s also noteworthy because it brings the past and the present together in a story that’s relatable for people of all ages and from all generations. I also think it has the potential to stand the test of time, although I disagree with a few of the reviewers who called Murakami one of the world’s greatest living novelists. There are better living novelists, but there aren’t too many of them, and Murakami is certainly very good at what he does.
Then there’s the age-old problem of trying to figure out how much of the credit should go to the author and how much should go to the translator. In this case, it appears as though both of them have done a fine job of things, and I’d certainly put this book in the top 5% of the contemporary fiction that comes out. But the top 1%? That’s a tough one.
Overall though, you’d be crazy not to recommend this, and you’d be crazy not to read it, too. There’s a lot to be said for it, and the characters are not just relatable – they’re also memorable, and that’s often, sadly, a rarity. But in this case, Murakami does a good job of things, and the result is this – a little gem of a novel.