Book Club!

In 1985 Murakami published the novel Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, one of the most technically proficient novels of that decade, celebrating both the technocratic, cyberpunk milieu of modern Japan and the pastoral  pre-US occupation dreamland past. In this work, Murakami explored the juxtaposition of “being” against “non-being”: a concept that haunts his early works. And while we are not reviewing that work, it is in many ways instrumental in understanding the cultural reaction to Norwegian Wood.

As I allude to above, Hardboiled goes back and forth by chapter, telling what are seemingly two different tales, but, as is revealed in the text, we gradually come to understand that they are two sides of the same tale, a tale of man gradually losing himself to the conditions of his memory. I don’t want to spoil that rich novel for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, so suffice it to say that the book showcases both the seeming everyday that Murakami places on top of the magical, think men dressed as sheep or a man who works at an elephant factory, and the non-existence of Japan’s very troubled past, showcased in the walled End of the World.

Norwegian Wood seemingly describes Murakami’s college years; the dorm living, ’60’s rebellion, music, girls. And while he makes if plain that these aren’t his years that he is describing (he has stated that his college experiences would fill a total of ten pages), they feel so real, so personal that one can’t help but be drawn into them, placing our own experiences into the book. And although he gives the narrator a name in this novel (Toru) he writes it in the style of the Japanese I-novel, an autobiographical style popular in postwar Japan. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver, whom Murakami is a fan of, this allows great freedom in the tale, but also places the storyteller at a remove.

In the opening chapters, we are quickly plunged into the past, as our narrator hears the titular song. Memories, complete although so deep that it takes all his will to bring them forth, of events that make him physical ill when he hears the song. Naoko looms large, taking Toru on long walks in both the country and the city. Their conversations are oblique, circling around a topic, which seemingly relates to the death of Kizuki, Naoko’s boyfriend and Toru’s best friend. Here we are shown the being vs. non-being, bridged only by memory.

What are your thoughts? Burt, in the comments of the introductory post for this, described beautiful melancholy, which I think fits the narration quite well. Were will the tale go? And why was it so able to get under the skin of a generation of Japanese? Who is Stormtrooper and why does he stutter? Please, join in the comments and let us know what you think.

Thus ends part two of Norwegian Wood book club, what does everyone say to reading chaps 4, 5 and 6 for next week? Let me know in the comments


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A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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6 thoughts on “Book Club!

  1. The main thing that the book is making me meditate upon is the whole “finding yourself” thing that happens in college. I suppose that I have “found” myself and so it’s easy for me to say this but, jeez, why in the heck did we put so much energy into “finding” ourselves?

    Absolutely exhausting.


    • That is a very interesting take, not one I had thought of. For me, it is the juxtaposition of pre and post war Japan in my head. Maybe having seen to many Kurasawa epics or Shogun, but Murakami doesn’t provide a Japan that fits neatly into any preconceived ideas I had about the culture. It is so westernized, so “now”, for lack of a better word. How did that happen? Also, that feeling a emotions being ground up and overwhelming everything is so present.


  2. I have read the book many times. What is interesting to me is that it manages to convey the turmoil of the 1960s in a very understated way. Maybe I am missing things because it is set in Japan but American coming of age stories set in the 1960s always have the characters hit so many damn highlights. They went to civil rights protests and Vietnam war protests and Woodstock type events, etc. Always at the most happening place at the right time.

    Our characters are on the periphery of all that. Watanabe is aware of all the stuff going on but he does not participate. The book focuses more on emotional turmoil.


    • There is a part of chapter four, where the state has put a kibosh on the “rebels”, Toru takes a slight stand and refuses to answer roll call in class. Now, that is getting a little ahead of our reading assignment, but I think it really undercuts the retcon that has gone on about the events of the student rebellion and the part it has played in popular culture from that era. I have an acquaintance from high school who’s mom said she went to Woodstock, but no one else has ever really mentioned anything like that otherwise. There are a couple books on it, Kurlansky’s 1968 Paco Ignacio Taibo’s ’68, etc. And there was the Weather Underground, Foucault did ride around Paris describing the actions and taking part. But I have gotten the feeling that much of the popular memory is exaggerated, at least in the US. And from reading this, I am guessing in Japan as well. But, that is just a guess and I would be interested in more information.


        • There was something of a student/hippie movement in Japan but it was not as big as the student/hippie movement elsewhere because Japanese boomers didn’t exactly have the same motivation and Japanese society tends towards apolitical thought. The Japanese Red Army was a thing and even engaged in terrorist attacks against Israel though.


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