Haruki Murakami

Let’s Discuss — Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of  life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that. When it took seventeen-year-old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as well (34)

Norwegian Wood delves into the memories of love, life and death during the young adulthood of a man named Toru. An older Toru reminisces about the time he had relationships with two women, Naoko and Midori. These relationships develop under completely different circumstances and consequently signify unique meanings for Toru.

Toru’s relationship with Naoko is founded in sorrow. A traumatic experience connects them and ironically, it is that same experience which separates them. In grade school Toru’s best and only friend, Kizuki, commits suicide. At this time, Naoko is Kizuki’s girlfriend, and Toru and Naoko are only aware of each other’s presence in Kizuki’s life. A few years later, when Toru and Naoko run into each other in the city, they are drawn to each other because they share similiar feelings of discontent over Kizuki’s passing.

Later, Toru meets another young woman named Midori. Midori is very different from Naoko…she’s outgoing, fun, spontaneous. She ignites something in Toru. Midori reminds Toru he’s alive and she’s alive, and when they are together they are something close to happy. Of course Midori isn’t perfect. She has her own personal issues, but Toru is very understanding and embraces her as she is.

 I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every though came back, like a boomerang to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind (5)

Where Midori and Naoko really differ are in their futures. Naoko is so affected by suicide* that she becomes very ill and must relocate to a rehabilitation center and eventually to a mental hospital to get well. But Naoko never gets well. She can’t get well…or maybe she just won’t get well. Either way, for Toru to continue a relationship with Naoko would mean having to put his life on hold. It would mean having to stay shrouded in misery, and to a certain degree, a slow and certain death**. But Midori?–having a relationship with Midori would mean Toru chooses to live. To enjoy life in the moment and in the future.

It’s not an easy decision. Does Toru choose life or death?***

* Naoko witnesses her older sister commit suicide, in addition to dealing with her boyfriend’s.

** Figuratively…and quite possibly literally…

*** Normally I loathe open endings…but this one surprised me and I liked it…even though I don’t really understand it. Actually, I don’t understand why Murakami writes half the things he writes– see IQ84.

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Let’s Discuss — 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Blood shed in this world is real blood. This is no imitation world, no imaginary world, no metaphysical world. I guarantee you that. But this is not the 1984 you know

Like a parallel world?

The man’s shoulder trembled with laughter. You’ve been reading too much science fiction. No, this is no parallel world. You don’t have 1984 over there and 1Q84 branching off over here and the two worlds running along parallel tracks. The year 1Q84 no longer exists anywhere. For you and for me, the only time that exists anymore is this year of 1Q84 (462)

The excerpt above is the clearest description of the world of 1Q84 from within the pages.

It’s weird.

I sped through the first 500 pages, and then put it down for a few days to reflect. During this break I realized I have no idea what this book is about. And even now after having finished it, I still don’t know. Is it a story about true love? Or star-crossed lovers? Cults?

I think what propelled me through the first half of the book was Murakami’s writing style. It’s new to me. But after 600 pages or so, I began to pick out annoying details that were ruining an already weak storyline. For example, a lot of the descriptions are redundant and some things seem out of place (frequent mention of breasts, their size and shape) or negatively awkward (sex scenes and phone conversations) or just unnecessary…like when Aomame uses a pregnancy test.

Read this:

The test itself was simple. Just urinate into a clean container and then dip the indicator stick into it. Or, alternately, urinate directly onto the stick. Then wait a few minutes. If the color changes to blue you’re pregnant, if it doesn’t change color, you’re not. In one version, if two vertical lines appear in the little window, you’re pregnant. One line, and you’re not. The details might vary but the principle was the same (709)

I mean, we all know how those work…so why include that?

Things like this happen a lot. It may serve a purpose, of which I’m not aware.

I guess that leads me to the characters, which are interesting in the beginning, as you learn their backstory, grievances and circumstance. The two central characters are Aomame and Tengo, moon-crossed lovers navigating Tokyo in the time of 1Q84. Tengo and Aomame have very similar backgrounds. They have little social interaction and their daily lives are routine and boring. They both let a lot happen to them and participate the minimum one can participate.

Aomame and Tengo reconnect in the year 1984/1Q84, after not having seen each other after twenty years…and there’s not much more than that. They shared a moment in adolescence (a squeezing of hands together at school) Fast forward, and Aomame assassinates a leader of a cult, who also happens to be exploited in a book Tengo has rewritten. That’s the point of reconnection.

Yes, there are other side characters. Yes, there are other “elements” involved–but they’re confusing and quite frankly, too boring to mention. However, with all that said, I’m not completely turned off to Murakami’s writing. In the end, I can only sum it up as a peculiar piece of alternate-magical-realistic surrealism…and I still can’t be sure that’s right.