Rife with allusions to The Beatles, the Second World War and to other works of his, Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is the story of Toro Watanabe. It follows the Japanese college student’s life in Japan and his relationship with the emotionally fragile, wistful and melancholic Naoko.
Published by RHUK as a paperback in English in 2001, Norwegian Wood is narrated in the first person, in Murakami’s trademark conversational tone. The story chronicles the complicated relationship that Toru has with beautiful Naoko, who is committed at a mental health institution. She is also the girlfriend of Toru’s best friend, who committed suicide.
Norwegian Wood is told as a series of flashbacks, focusing on both Toru’s experiences as a college student living through fairly turbulent times in Japan, with civil unrest and political instability and as the unsuccessful lover of his fellow drama and English major, Midori Kobayashi. The supreme opposite of Naoko, Midori is outgoing and vivacious, which causes Toru’s relationship with Naoko to become even more complicated. The story follows his attempts to describe his life, these two women and the broader picture of human alienation and loss, while trying to cope with his own burgeoning sexuality.
The book became wildly popular in Japan when it was published and went on to become a global bestseller.
The book was adapted into a Japanese film in 2010 by Oscar nominee, Korean director Tran Anh Hung.