Haruki Murakami isn’t a name many Indian book lovers would know. In fact I hadn’t heard of him either, until my sporadic book reading spree. (I am not a very dedicated bibliophile, I need inspiration to start off… But once I do, there’s no stopping me!). Coming back to Mr. Murakami, I chanced upon one of his short stories “Sleep” published in The New York Times. And boy, was I hooked! I kept going back to the story and with every read, I rediscovered a new nuance.
Since I found the story so captivating, I googled some more for his English titles. Mr. Murakami is a Japanese author and hence, not all of his books are available in English. I took to reading one of his more famous books translated in this decade – Norwegian Woods. Originally published in 1987, this book was translated to English in 2000. When it was released in Japan, the book turned Murakami into an overnight literary superstar with a sale of over 5 Million copies… a phenomenon the author himself finds hard to explain.
The title is a popular song by The Beatles, and finds innumerable mentions in the book. Set against the post-WW2 backdrop, Norwegian Woods is a coming-of-age story narrated in first person by the protagonist Toru Watanabe as he looks back on his days at the University. The book characterizes Toru’s struggle between his feelings for his dead friend’s girlfriend – the beautiful, yet troubled Naoko and another fellow-student – the lively and outgoing Midori. Since I’d read The Perks of Being a Wallflower – another novel of the same genre, I had this weird déjà vu feeling and began drawing references almost immediately.
The book deals with the confusion, angst, and issues teenagers face. Reflecting the common disillusionment and depression amongst teenagers, this book also reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye. The writing style is lucid and the characters are relatable. The story though, is complicated and might not resonate with pan Indian audience who are raised on staple Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Dutta fare. But overall, Murakami had me captivated with his story-telling even though the ending was predictable.
I’d recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower or even the recent book-made-into-a-major-motion-picture – The Silver Linings Playbook. As a last mention, I didn’t find the success of this book to be surprising because for me there is nothing better than a simple story told with exceptional clarity and focus on every character (however integral or not the character may be to the plot), and the book is a clear winner on these notes.