Do you like your love stories happy, sad and bitter-true? Read on. If you like them sentimental and Mills and Boon is your genre of choice then best to leave now.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Maurakami opens with a Proust like moment as the Beatles tune is played in a German plane in 1987. We are taken back to the emotional triangle of his best friend (Kizuki) and his friends’ girl-friend (Kaoko) The first of many emotional triangles that Watanbe finds himself as the calm centre over the next five years.
He goes to a 2nd rate Tokyo private university in the student driven political riots and campus takeovers of the late 60’s where he makes friends with Nagasawa a secret reader of western classics and a serious womaniser. Or with his roommate, the storm trooper. Both teach him ways of living before disappearing from his life but perhaps not for ever. As the events of his friendship unfolds he meets and falls in love with a free speaking fellow student but this is not his only love so he gradually falls apart as the story moves to its bitter-truth ending
This at one level is the most accessible of Haruki Maurakami novels and the one that sold in millions in Japan making him a superstar. He fled for five years before going back. However it’s no Japanese Love Story which was a sentimental, romantic tearjerker film based upon Erich Segal's best-selling short novel of the same name.The mood is darker but lightened with humour and tenderness so you come to admire and love Watanbe honesty and painful path to adulthood. You also feel part of the ordinary life of 60’s Japan that lies beyond the stereotypes.
The prose has the poetry of the best Japanese writing but with the flow of the best western writing. I got to be a fan of his writing with the very different Dance Dance Dance which blurs genres, and writing conventions but I strongly recommend Norwegian Wood for anyone who like good writing for as Nagasawa says
if you only read the books that every one else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.