“What makes us normal, is knowing that we’re not normal”.
Some books knock you out and leave you breathless. Some stay with you for hours, days, weeks after you have finished reading them. Norwegian Wood is one such book. Most of Murakami’s books have that power. At least over me.
Norwegian Wood is narrated through Toru, one of the central characters in the story. When Toru hears a particular Beatles song, he is taken back to his university years and his first love, Nako. But Nako is dating his best friend, Kizuki. The story follows Toru navigating the college years and girls up until Midori walks into his life. He has to decide between Nako and Midori, his past and future, between a love that feels like an obligation but deep at the same time and a love he knows will push him forward in life. This is a story of loss, desire, longing, helplessness and so much more. I guess you could call it a love story.
Murakami has approached certain topics with such grace and sensitivity, which very few authors have the ability to do. For example, he has tackled the issue of mental health with amazing compassion, understanding and thoughtfulness. At no point did I feel that the author has no idea what he is saying about mental illnesses (which is saying something!).
“I thought that as long as I was with him, I would be all right,” she went on. “As long as I was with him, my troubles would stay away. That’s the most important thing for a sickness like ours: a sense of trust. If I put myself in this person’s hands, I’ll be OK. If my condition starts to worsen even the slightest bit – if a screw comes loose – he’ll notice straight away, and with tremendous care and patience he’ll fix it, he’ll tighten the screw again, put all the jumbled threads back in place. If we have that sense of trust, our sickness stays away.”
“If you’re in pitch blackness, all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark”.
I choose to look at it as his way of saying that we need to build our coping skills, adapt to our situations the best possible way we can and make our own way through it all. The sense of trust that we feel towards a certain person or thing is what helps us maintain our equilibrium.
Murakami has this power with words that no one else does. I have yet to come across another author who creates the kind of magic that he does. Every time I have read his book, I have had to step back and remind myself to breathe and go back to functioning like a normal human being, in a somewhat normal world!
Most of his stories fall under the surrealism and magical realism genre. It has taken me time to get used to his way of writing, but now that I am, I find it easier to get through his book. However, even when I was struggling with the genre, his beautiful writing kept me going and I am so glad it did!
There truly is no one else like him out there.
P.S: The other two books that I have read (at least for now) are Sputnik Sweetheart and After Dark, both of which had a similar impact on me.
P.S.S: The edition that I read was translated by Jay Rubin, which has been authorized by Haruki Murakami for publication.