Title: Norwegian Wood.
Author: Haruki Murakami.
Genre: Fiction, bildungsroman, romance, mental health, suicide.
Publication Date: 1987 (translated in 2000).
Summary: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend and Naoko's boyfriend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn't give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind.
Now, though, that meadow scene is the first thing that comes back to me. The smell of the grass, the faint chill of the wind, the line of the hills, the barking of a dog: these are the first things, and they come with absolute clarity. I feel as if I can reach out and trace them with a fingertip. And yet, as clear as the scene may be, no one is in it. No one. Naoko is not there, and neither am I. Where could we have disappeared to? How could such a thing happen? Everything that seemed so important back then - Naoko, and the self I was then, and the world I had then: where could they have all gone?
♥ Which is why I'm writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.
♥ Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.
Translated into words, it's a cliché, but at the time I felt it not as words but as that knot of air inside me. Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a billiard table - and we go on living and breathing into our lungs like fine dust.
Until that time, I had understood death as something entirely separate from and independent of life. The hand of death is bound to take us, I had felt, but until the day it reaches out for us it leaves us alone. This had seemed to me the simple, logical truth. Life is here, death is over there. I am here, not over there.
The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that. When it took the seventeen-year-old Kizuki that night in May, death took me as well.
I lived through the following spring, at eighteen, with that knot of air in my chest, but I struggled all the while against becoming serious. Becoming serious was not the same thing as approaching truth, I sensed, however vaguely. But death was a fact, a serious fact, no matter how you looked at it. Stuck inside this suffocating contradiction, I went on endlessly spinning in circles. Those were strange days, now that I look back at them. In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.
♥ With my eyes closed, I would touch a familiar book and draw its fragrance deep inside me. This was enough to make me happy.
♥ He was a far more voracious reader than I, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least thirty years. "That's the only kind of book I can trust," he said.
"It's not that I don't believe in contemporary literature," he added, "but I don't want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short."
♥ "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That's the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that."
♥ There were sides to Nagasawa's personality that conflicted in the extreme. Even I would be moved by his kindness at times, but he could, just as easily, be malicious and cruel. He was both a spirit of amazing loftiness and an irredeemable man of the gutter. He could charge forward, the optimistic leader, even as his heart writhed in a swamp of loneliness. I saw these paradoxical qualities of his from the start, and I could never understand why they weren't just as obvious to everyone else. He lived in his own special hell.
♥ "So why are you trying to join the Foreign Ministry?"
"All kinds of reasons," said Nagasawa. "I like the idea of working overseas, for one. But mainly I want to test my abilities. If I'm going to test myself, I want to do it in the biggest field there is - the nation. I want to see how high I can climb, how much power I can exercise in this insanely huge bureaucratic system. See what I mean?"
"Sounds like a game."
"It is a game. I don't give a damn about power and money per se. Really, I don't. I may be a selfish bastard, but I'm incredibly cool about shit like that. I could be a Zen saint. The one thing I do have, though, is curiosity. I want to see what I can do out there in the big, tough world."
"And you have no use for 'ideals', I suppose."
"None. Life doesn't require ideals. It requires standards of action."
♥ "For a certain kind of person, love begins from something tiny or silly. From something like that or it doesn't begin at all."
♥ "That's the kind of death that frightens me. The shadow of death slowly, slowly eats away at the region of life, and before you know it everything's dark and you can't see, and the people around you think of you as more dead than alive. I hate that. I can't stand it."
♥ It was a soft and gentle kiss, one not meant to lead beyond itself. I would probably not have kissed Midori that day if we hadn't spent the afternoon on the laundry deck in the sun, drinking beer and watching a fire, and she probably felt the same. After a long time of watching the glittering rooftops and the smoke and the red dragonflies and other things, we had felt something warm and close, and we both probably wanted, half-consciously, to preserve that mood in some form. It was that kind of kiss. But as with all kisses, it was not without a certain element of danger.
♥ Girls my age never use the word fair. Ordinary girls as young as I am are basically indifferent to whether things are fair or not. The central question for them is not whether something is fair but whether or not it's beautiful or will make them happy. Fair is a man's word, finally, but I can't help feeling that it is also exactly the right word for me now. And because questions of beauty and happiness have become such difficult and convoluted propositions for me now, I suspect, I find myself clinging instead to other standards - like, whether or not something is fair or universally true.
♥ Basketball teams are made up of both staff and (I hate the word, but there's no way around it) patients. When I'm absorbed in a game, though, I lose track of who are the patients and who are staff. This is kind of strange. I know this will sound strange, but when I look at the people around me during a game, they all look equally deformed.
I said this one day to the doctor in charge of my case, and he told me that, in a sense, what I was feeling was right, that we are in here not to correct the deformation but to accustom ourselves to it: that one of our problems was our inability to recognize and accept our own deformities. Just as each person has certain idiosyncracies in the way he or she walks, people have idiosyncracies in the way they think and feel and see things, and though you might want to correct them, it doesn't happen overnight, and if you try to force the issue in one case, something else might go funny. He gave me a very simplified explanation, of course, and it's just one small part of the problems we have, but I think I understand what he was trying to say. It may well be that we can never fully adapt to our own deformities. Unable to find a place inside ourselves for the very real pain and suffering that these deformities cause, we come here to get away from such things. As long as we are here, we can get by without hurting others or being hurt by them because we know that we are "deformed." That's what distinguishes us from the outside world: most people go about their lives there unconscious of their deformities, while in this little world of ours the deformities themselves are a precondition. Just as Indians wear feathers on their heads to show which tribes they belong to, we wear our deformities in the open. And we live quietly so as not to hurt one another.
♥ "It's a quiet place, so people talk quietly," said Naoko. She made a neat pile of fish bones at the edge of her plate and dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief. "There's no need to raise your voice here. You don't have to convince anybody of anything, and you don't have to attract anyone's attention."
"I guess not," I said, but as I ate my meal in these quiet surroundings, I was surprised to find myself missing the buzz of people. I wanted to hear people laughing and shouting for no reason and saying overblown things. That was just the kind of noise I had grown sick of in recent months, but sitting here and eating fish in this unnaturally quiet room, I couldn't relax. The dining hall had all the atmosphere of a specialized-machine-tool trade fair. People with a strong interest in a limited field came together in a limited spot and exchanged information understood only by themselves.
♥ "To be able to perform music for yourself is a wonderful thing."
♥ "Anyhow, that's how Kizuki and I grew up together, hand in hand an inseparable pair. We had almost no sense of the oppressiveness of sex or the anguish that comes with the sudden swelling of the ego that ordinary kids experience when they reach puberty. We were totally open about sex, and where our egos were concerned, the way we absorbed and shared each other's, we had no strong awareness of them. Do you see what I mean?"
"I think so," I said.
"We couldn't bear to be apart. So if Kizuki had lived, I'm sure we would have been together, loving each other, and gradually growing unhappy."
"Unhappy? Why's that?"
With her fingers, Naoko combed her hair back several times. She had taken her barrette off, which made the hair fall over her face when she dropper her head forward.
"Because we would have had to pay the world back what we owed it," she said, raising her eyes to mine. "The pain of growing up. We didn't pay when we should have, so now the bills are due. Which is why Kizuki did what he did, and why I'm in here. We were like kids who grew up naked on a desert island. If we got hungry, we'd just pick a banana; if we got lonely, we'd go to sleep in each other's arms. But that kind of thing doesn't last forever. We grew up fast and had to enter society. Which is why you were so important to us. You were the link connecting us with the outside world. We were struggling through you to fit in with the outside world as best we could. In the end, it didn't work, of course."
"I wouldn't want you to think that we were using you, though. Kizuki really loved you. It just so happened that our connection with you was our first connection with anyone else. And it still is. Kizuki may be dead, but you are still my only link with the outside world. And just as Kizuki loved you, I love you. We never meant to hurt you, but we probably did; we probably ended up making a deep wound in your heart. It never occurred to us that anything like that might happen."
♥ But still, as I held held her and caressed her and kissed her naked flesh, I felt a strange and powerful awareness of the imbalance and awkwardness of the human body. Holding Naoko in my arms, I wanted to explain to her, "I am having intercourse with you now. I am inside you. But really this is nothing. It doesn't matter. It is nothing but the joining of two bodies. All we are doing is telling each other things that can only be told by the rubbing together of two imperfect lumps of flesh. By doing this, we are sharing our imperfection." But of course I could never have said such a thing with any hope of being understood.
♥ "Sounds like patients and staff could trade places," I said.
"Right on," said Reiko, waving her fork in the air. "I guess you're finally starting to figure out how things work here."
"What makes us most normal," said Reiko, "is knowing that we're not normal."
♥ "She was not the kind of child who could stand proper training. There just happen to be people like that. They're blessed with this marvelous talent, but they can't make the effort to systematize it. They end up squandering it in little bits and pieces. I've seen my share of people like that. At first you think they're amazing. Like, they can sight-read some terrifically difficult piece and do a damn good job playing it all the way through. You see them do it, and you're overwhelmed. You think, 'I could never do that in a million years.' But that's as far as they go. They can't take it any further. And why not? Because they won't put in the effort. Because they haven't had the discipline pounded into them. They've been spoiled. They have just enough talent so they've been able to play things well without any effort and they've had people telling them how great they are from the time they're little, so hard work looks stupid to them. They'll take some piece another kid has to work on for three weeks and polish it off in half the time, so the teacher figures they've put enough into it and lets them go to the next thing. And they do that in half the time and go on to the next piece. They never find out what it means to be hammered by the teacher; they lose out on a certain element required for character building. It's a tragedy."
♥ "And their so-called discussions were terrible, too. Everybody would use big words and pretend they knew what was going on. But I would ask questions whenever I didn't understand something. 'What is this imperialist exploitation stuff you're talking about? Is it connected somehow to the East India Company?' 'Does smashing the educational-industrial complex mean we're not supposed to work for a company after we graduate from college?' And stuff like that. But nobody was willing to explain anything to me. Far from it - they got mad at me. Can you believe it?"
"Yeah, I can," I said.
"One guy yelled at me, 'You stupid bitch, how do you live like that with nothing in your brain?' Well, that did it as far as I was concerned. I wasn't going to put up with it. O.K., so I'm not so smart. I'm working class. But it's the working class that keeps the world running, and it's the working class that gets exploited. What the hell kind of revolution have you got just tossing out big words that working-class people can't understand? What the hell kind of social revolution is that? I mean, I'd like to make the world a better place, too. If somebody's really being exploited, we've got to put a stop to it. That's what I believe, and that why I ask questions. Am I right, or what?"
"So that's when it hit me. These guys are bunch of phonies. All they've got on their minds is impressing the new girls with the big words they're so proud of and sticking their hands up their skirts. And when they're seniors, they cut their hair short and go trooping to work for Mitsubishi or IBM or Fuji Bank. They marry pretty wives who've never read Marx and have kids they give fancy new names to that are enough to make you puke. Smash what educational-industrial complex? Don't make me laugh!"
♥ Then I wrapped a cucumber in nori, dipped it in soy sauce, and gobbled it down.
"Mmm, great!" I said to Midori's father. "Fresh, simple, smells like life."
♥ It finally hit me some dozen or so years later. I had come to Santa Fe to interview a painter and was sitting in a local pizza parlor, drinking beer and eating pizza and watching a miraculously beautiful sunset. Everything was soaked in brilliant red - my hand, the plate, the table, the world - as if some special kind of fruit juice had splashed down on everything. In the midst of this overwhelming sunset, the image of Hatsumi flashed into my mind, and in that moment I understood what the tremor of the heart had been. It was a kind of childhood longing that had always remained - and would forever remain - unfulfilled. I had forgotten the existence of such innocent, all-but-seared-in longing: forgotten for years to remember that such feelings had ever existed inside me. What Hatsumi had stirred in me was a part of my very self that had long lain dormant. And when the realization struck me, it aroused such sorrow I almost burst into tears. She had been an absolutely special woman. Someone should have done something - anything - to save her.
♥ The second feature was a fairly normal sex flick, which meant it was even more boring than the first. It had lots of oral sex scenes, and every time they started doing fellatio or cunnilingus or sixty-nine the soundtrack would fill the theater with loud sucking or slurping sound effects. Listening to them, I felt strangely moved to think that I was living out my life on this odd planet of ours.
♥ I trudged along through each day in its turn, looking up only rarely, eyes locked on the endless swamp that lay before me, planting my right foot, raising my left, planting my left foot, raising my right, never sure where I was, never sure I was headed in the right direction, knowing only that I had to keep moving, one step at a time.
♥ "Mind if I give you one piece of advice?"
"Sure, go ahead."
"Don't feel sorry for yourself," he said. "Only assholes do that."
♥ No, we weren't lovers, but in a way we had opened ourselves to each other even more deeply than lovers do. The thought caused me a good deal of grief. What a terrible thing it is to wound someone you really care for - and to do it so unconsciously.
♥ Hey, there, Kizuki, I thought. Unlike you, I've chosen to live - and to live the best I know how. Sure, it was hard for you. What the hell, it's hard for me. Really hard. And all because you killed yourself and left Naoko behind. Bit that's something I will never do. I will never, ever turn my back on her. First of all, because I love her, and because I'm stronger than she is. And I'm just going to keep on getting stronger. I'm going to mature. I'm going to be an adult. Because that's what I have to do. I always used to think I'd like to stay seventeen or eighteen if I could. But not anymore. I'm not a teenager anymore. I've got a sense of responsibility now. I'm not the same guy I was when we used to hang out together. I'm twenty now. And I have to pay the price to go on living.
♥ "Just remember, life is a box of cookies."
I shook my head a few times and looked at her. "Maybe it's because I'm not so smart, but sometimes I don't know what the hell you're talking about."
"You know how they've got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don't like others? And you eat up all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don't like so much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. 'Now I just have to polish these off, and everything'll be O.K.' Life is a box of cookies."
♥ I have always loved Naoko, and I still love her. But there is a decisive finality to what exists between Midori and me. It has an irresistible power that is bound to sweep me into the future. What I feel for Naoko is a tremendously quiet and gentle and transparent love, but what I feel for Midori is a wholly different emotion. It stands and walks on its own, living and breathing and throbbing and shaking me to the roots of my being.
♥ By living our lives, we nurture death. True as this might be, it was only one of the truths we had to learn. What I learned from Naoko's death was this: no truth can cure the sorrow we feel from losing a loved one. No truth, no sincerity, no strength, no kindness can cure that sorrow. All we can do is see it through to the end and learn something from it, but what we learn will be no help in facing the next sorrow that comes to us without warning.
♥ "Letters are just pieces of paper," I said. "Burn them, and what stays in your heart will stay; keep them, and what vanishes will vanish."
♥ At last, Midori's quiet voice broke the silence: "Where are you now?"
Where was I now?
Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the telephone booth. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.