In Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, main character Toru Watanabe considers himself totally ordinary and he actually is. This could spell immediate doom for a first-person narrative, but Murakami delicately weaves a tragic but intensely interesting tale of events that lead all the way up to (and then seemingly stop at) the novel's climax. Toru's youthful naiveté persists through much of the book, even in the wake of his best friend's suicide. Lonely and stagnant in a Tokyo college dorm, Toru eventually faces adulthood in the difficult choice he must make between the two women he loves. One is the beautiful but emotionally scarred girlfriend of his dead pal; the other an extraordinarily quirky and sexually liberated freshman classmate. Murakami adds few other characters but pumps them so full of life that they often steal the show. While the story is famously criticized by fans of Murakami's other work as being "just a love story", the subtext and meaning behind the sometimes strange events Toru finds himself in give this novel the weight it needs to succeed on many other levels.
What a relief when a narrator absolutely nails the voices of every character in the book. That's the case with James Yaegashi's interpretation of Norwegian Wood. His styling for each voice remains consistent, so much so that in some sections you forget that one person is handling both sides of a conversation. Yaegashi's versions of the two female love interests are wholly unique, employing separate qualities to each that underscore the differences in their personalities. The narration breathes full-blooded life into each character, at points becoming so essential that without Yaegashi's touch, a listener might start to tune out. His Japanese-inflected pronunciations of the foods and geography also add to the richness of the settings, something Murakami goes purposeful lengths to describe. And through it all, Yaegashi remains true to the voice of Toru Watanabe, adding an element of sympathy to the confused and tragic experience of Toru's difficult coming of age. Josh Ravitz
A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming of age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.
©2000 Haruki Murakami; (P)2006 Recorded Books
"Murakami tells a subtle, charming, profound and very sexy story of young love bound for tragedy." (Publishers Weekly)
"Deeply moving, darkly comic, beautifully written, and smoothly translated." (Library Journal)
"Haruki Murakami is our greatest living practitioner of fiction. The ways he has found to inhabit narrative are without precedent, and perhaps more importantly, without gimmick." (Village Voice)
The epilogue to Norwegian Wood tells the listener that Murakami wanted to try out a new genre and tested his skills with a love story. He did an excellent job. The style of writing and the character development are very different from his other stories - and there is nothing strange or unusual to cope with. The main characters are well developed: thoughtful, reserved, and introspective. At the same time, there are free wheeling extroverts that will defy stereotypes that some might hold about the Japanese. The story also provides insights into Japanese culture of the era and you will learn that young Japanese of the time are no different than their contemporaries in other countries (e.g., they were very interested in popular Western music and had active sex lives without all of the baggage that accompanies the sexual evolution of youth in the West). An excellent story and a different side of Murakami.
I learned awhile back to not bother thinking about plots with Haruki's novels. So instead I enjoy the experience. This novel will definitely have you laughing out loud or at least smiling broadly. Another thing I learned is to welcome the unexpected. This novel has brutally honest and quirky dialogue. Definitely a fun listen and not easy to put down. Within a few months I'll be listening again. Kafka On the Shore is my next do over. I found it haunting and am anxious to get back Kafka.
This story builds more slowly than the Wind-up Bird Chronicles, so you might want to give it time if you aren't engaged immediately. The narrator was also a bit silly; I didn't love his narration of female voices. Those are my only two critiques, and they are minor in the face of Murakami's fabulous writing.
Although not quite as mystical/mysterious as the Chronicles, this book still has a magical bent. The story seems really ordinary until the characters end up at a sanatorium. At that point, normal rules as suspended, and Murakami brings in his skill for making the ordinary world seem just slightly off-kilter.
And there are many scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny.
I wasn't aware that I was about to listen to a romance novel. When I stated this book. This is nothing like Murakami's other supernatural
cult style works. This book shows how versatile the author can be. Norwegian Wood is a story I will listen to again and again.
According to the epilogue, Norwegian Wood made Haruki Murakami so famous that he had to flee Japan for a time to avoid what he considered excessive adulation. This is a novel that appeals to college students since it dwells on things about which college students obsess: Love, suicide, drinking, sex, mental health, music, and the inconsistent and often hypocritical behavior of their fellow students.
Unfortunately, James Yaegashi's narration almost spoiled the book for me. He is careful to correctly pronounce all Japanese names, which is a big plus. But he reads too slowly, with many long pauses between sentences, and much of the reading is flat and expressionless. I had to listen at 2x speed to sustain my ability to follow the story. I think Yaegashi's voice was perfect for the central character, Toru, but he failed to create plausible voices for the female characters, using a creaky voice that made the women sound elderly.
The only good thing about Yaegashi's narrating is that he pronounces all the Japanese names and places correctly. Otherwise his voice and reading are very annoying, and when he does the women's voices they sound like shriveled old witches. It's terrible.
The story is great however, stamped with Murakami's trademark prose and descriptions.
What a fantastic, sad, beautifully written book this is! I am happy that it does not contain the magical elements like the other Murakami book I read, Kafka on the Shore (fish raining out of the sky is what I remember most; give me a break!) . But the writing is just as beautiful and ethereal as that book was. It's a love story, but also an examination of life and growing up and coming to terms with love and loss.I love the main character, Toru Watanabe! He's a wonderful young man growing up in Japan in the 60's and 70's. He's basically caught up in a relationship with a very unattainable young woman, Naoko, whose favorite song is "Norwegian Wood." As Toru says about her, "She and I were bound together at the border between life and death; it was like that from the start." She really seems to represent death, and there are many deaths and references to death in the book. So, the tension in the plot revolves around whether he will basically end up with her or with Midori, who, I think, represents life. I also liked Naoko's older friend, Reiko, who acts as some sort of guide and sage for both Naoko and Toru. As she says to Toru at the end, "If you feel some kind of pain with regard to Naoko???s death, I would advise you to keep on feeling that pain for the rest of your life. And if there???s something you can learn from it you should do that, too. But quite aside from that, you should be happy with Midori. Your pain has nothing to do with your relationship with her. If you hurt her any more than you already have, the wound could be too deep to fix. So hard as it may be, you have to be strong, you have to grow up more, be more of an adult." So, even thought the story is SO sad, it does seem to end on a hopeful note as Toru calls Midori. I love what he says about Midori's silence: It is..."the silence of all the misty rain in the world falling on all the new-mown lawns of the world." Oh no, I???m starting to cry again??? ???
What an odd book. It was great to read a novel translated from Japanese, something I’d never done before. And it was fun to connect the dots with my own travels in Japan. Certainly the sense of loneliness and struggle experienced by the characters comes through achingly clear in the translation. However, the extensive, uh, “romance” scenes, are translated in a most anatomically correct manner, making them more painfully comic than erotic or sensuous. Given that these scenes represent much of the bond between the various characters, it made the depth of relationship and interdependence hard to believe. Maybe that's how they were actually written? I was left wishing I could read the book in Japanese. I do plan to try another Murakami book, but likely one of his more mystical ones…
Criticism of Murakami most often targets the banality of the situations, the tedious pondering of self-ness, and the trite or simplistic language. It is true that many Murakami's themes are very common, but this is probably why he is so popular. However, his intentionally simplistic language brings out some of the more difficult to express problems of social isolation that his characters experience in a pomo info-age.
If the critics decry Murakami's simple language, it is that they focus on his short sentences with unpretentious vocabularly. This language, however, when understood beyond the word and sentence level, open up a structure of thought and awareness that was previously impenetrable with Buddhist and Western Philosophical complexities. Hooray for Murakami, then, for brining the experience that philosophy says we all feel, into a dialog with those actually feeling it!
That said, this recording is awful. This recording severs all connection to the paragraph or chapter, where the real meaning of Murakami's text lies, and leaves you with broken sentences. Yaegashi's voice has a good tone, but his reading of a sentence is as a Jr. High schooler reading the text for the first time. The tone of each sentence is nearly identical, starting with a stark emphasis, following the same pitch arch to the end of the sentence, without emotion or connection to what was spoken before, or anticipating what comes next. The sentences are 'read' rather than performed, with very frequent awkward pauses that do not flow with the grammar. Seriously lacking in performative quality, like a student in a classroom assigned to cold reading a passage that they hadn't seen before.
The result leaves Murakami's language sounding shallow and inane, rather than simply unpretentious. After 10 minutes, you feel the pattern may be intentional. At 30 minutes, this predictable pattern looses all connection with craft, and grates on the ears, and one looks for the ice-pick to relieve the pain.
I have have listen to a great many audiobooks. This reading was dismal. No inflection. No sense of character. I was interested in the story but was unable to finish Part I. I would pull this audiobook from the shelf
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