I'm really fascinated with Japan. Its culture, its people, its traditions. It truly amazes me how this relatively small, resource-less country manages to be one of the world's strongest economic powers, and undoubtedly the most technologically advanced nation on this planet.

And that's why I really wanted to read this book. It's a weird reason, I know. Well, some friends also told me that it's a good book, but I get may such tips and my book reading list is long, so the excuse for reading this one is my vivid curiosity about Japan.

"Norwegian wood" is an "autobiographic" (told by "I", but a fiction, not a real autobiography) story of Wanatebe, a twenty year old student in Tokyo of the 1960s. Wanatebe is in love with two girls. One of them is Naoko, the girlfriend of Kidzuki, his late friend, who killed himself in the age of 17. Wanatebe and Naoko met through Kidzuki, and became "together" some time after his death. But Naoko is mentally ill, and is stationed in an asylum. Wanatebe, in the meantime, goes on with his life and meets Midori, a student in his university - a slightly twisted girl, whose hobbies are getting drunk and watching porn movies. I won't spoil the rest for you...

In some ways it's a melancholic, elegiac book. In other ways, it's thoughtful and optimistic - depends how you look at it, and in what mood you are when you read it. Anyway you see it, the book is written very well. Murakami has an exceptional style that makes it very readable. And he's got a "touch" too. Some authors have this distinct touch in their writing - so their books don't read like newspapers. Murakami seems to be one of those authors.

Some random thoughts:

  • Judging by the book, there's nothing special in Japan - or at least Murakami hides it well. Change the names of people, places and foods to other names, and I will believe that the book is written about Germany, UK, US, or any other place.
  • There's an impression that the level of living is quite high there. Wanatebe works part time in crap-jobs (waiter, CD seller, etc.) but manages to study in a Uni, rent a place, eat in cafes and restaurants a lot, buy himself drinks, books and music as much as he wishes, etc.
  • Food is described in much detail. Almost in any meal eaten by the main characters, Murakami explains, quite meticulously, what the meals contain.
  • Obsession with sex. Gosh, don't let your 12 year old boy read this book ! It has lots and lots of sex (very detailed) and mastrubation, lesbian scenes (of a mature woman with a 13 y.o. girl...), porn and masochistic movies, etc.
  • The characters in the book seem very mature for their age. Wanatebe, in particular, has very "deep" thoughts, which is nice to read, but makes you wonder.... OTOH, he reads a lot.
  • Wanatebe has a very charming personality, I think (Midori and Reiko surely agree). He's honest, straight, thinks logically and has no sense of needless shyness. It's nice to have a main character that's easy to identify with.

Even if I can't put my finger on it exactly, there is some charm in this book, and I found it extremely entertaining and thoughtful. I'll heartily recomment it to anyone, and will try to get my hands on other books by the author.