Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami might have denied that Norwegian Wood is an autobiographical novel, but I am pretty sure that it is exactly that. Toru Watanabe, aka “I”, is the same age as Murakami, studies drama (Euripides and stuff) at a private University in Shinjuku, and even works part-time in the record shop. What more evidence do you need?

How unhurried was life back then. Toru lives in a dormitory and doesn’t have a phone. His favourite communication mode is letter-writing. Now try that in Japan, or elsewhere.

If there is a moral to the story, it is that you shall not kill yourself grieving for a loved one. The two most tender and uplifting moments of the novel are a kind of memorial service for Midori’s father (after which Midori falls asleep in Toru’s arms) and an alternative “funeral” for Naoko organised by Reiko (followed by Reiko and Toru’s full night of proper sex). And the dialogues between Toru and Midori are simply great.

“Know what I did the other day?” Midori asked. “I got all naked in front of my father’s picture. Took off every stitch of clothing and let him have a good, long look. Kind of in a yoga position. Like, ‘Here, Daddy, these are my tits, and this is my cunt’.”
“Why in the hell would you do something like that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to show him. I mean, half of me comes from his sperm, right? Why shouldn’t I show him? ‘Here’s the daughter you made.’ I was a little drunk at the time. I suppose that had something to do with it.”
“I suppose.”
“My sister walked in and almost fell over. There I was in front of my father’s memorial portrait all naked with my legs spread. I guess you would be kind of surprised.”
“I s’pose so.”
“I explained why I was doing it and said, ‘So take off your clothes too Momo (her name’s Momo), and sit down next to me and show him,’ but she wouldn’t do it. She went away shocked. She has this really conservative streak.”

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