“I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport.”
I overheard a brief conversation on Japanese literature and translation the other evening, which reminded me that it is a subject I really ought to touch on. Anything translated loses and gains something. Recently to help with my Spanish studies I have been translating and it’s amazing the differences that result. Within Japanese literature translation and specifically with Murakami an interesting example can be found between the first story in The Elephant Vanishes (the first appearance of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”) and the beginning of his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. One synonym versus another or placement in a sentence can deliver an entirely different effect.
With Norwegian Wood, the reader does not need to worry about not getting something. Actually, even though I finished the novel yesterday evening I find myself still quite emotional and it’s difficult to describe my experience with the book. It’s a beautiful, delicate, bittersweet, romance that unfolds in Tokyo of the 1960s. Murakami explores the complicated relationships between Toru and the people, mostly women, in his life. Jay Rubin the translator observes that when the novel originally was published it received criticism as being just another romance story, but there are so many rich strands that connect the novel it is anything but another romance story.
Norwegian Wood explores death, particularly suicide, and love. Much of the novel describes how richly the characters touch each others lives. Toru’s dialog definitely has a Salinger-esque feel to it and he’s designed as a likable character. Despite being the story’s hero, Toru very much serves as a vehicle to contrast and relay the other less than “normal” characters. Toru is in love with Naoku, the girlfriend of Toru’s high school friend who committed suicide, but as the novel progresses Naoku’s ability to function weakens as she struggles with mental and emotional duress. Soon after the night her and Toru spend together, Naoku leaves Tokyo to take up residence in a communal-like mental health center in the country side.
While an enormous amount more occurs in the novel this does make up the central part of the story that the remaining plot wraps around. Murakami deals with certain issues with such beauty and this ranges from ironing (a reoccurring Murakami theme) to eating grapes… I really cannot get over how phenomenal the novel was. Murakami has never been disappointing and Norwegian Wood is a terrific look at the 1960s and one man’s discovery of love and loss.