What I Talk About When I Talk About Murakami

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My father is an avid reader. I paused before writing this because I felt like ‘avid’ wasn’t justifying enough. He read so much that one time when I was 12, I brought my friends home and the first thing they said, almost simultaneously was ‘wow, this looks like a library’.

Oddly, not once had I thought of this. I grew up amongst tons and tons of books and it seemed perfectly normal to me.

He would buy books out of a sheer impulse. There are times, he’s told me, in college when he was down to literally his last bucksand yet, preferred to buy a nice copy of Salman Rushdie which I cannot stress enough- he’s probably already read. So it’s only natural that he has many.  

I was in ninth grade when he got heavily into Murakami and out of a whimsical impulse bought Norwegian Wood. He got it for half the price because he knew the owner of a bookstore nearby. Weeks after this, he bought more of Murakami and soon, a collection had gently stacked itself, taking up a large volume on his bookshelf.

Norwegian Wood

Now, just to clarify, I wasn’t very surprised by this until one night, I woke up very late and saw my mother reading Norwegian Wood with tears slipping down her face. I was amused and soon I began witnessing my parents having long and engaging conversations about Toru’s Catcher-in-the-Rye-like one-liners and Kizuki’s gas pipe and Reiko’s piano. I tried to pay attention but often felt lost with nothing more than a few words like these, that I’d kept memorised. Soon, both of them had read a lot of Murakami and their conversations slipped into an endless routine, which I couldn’t fathom.

With peaked interest I approached my father one day asking, “Can I read Norwegian Wood?” and he said no. I was confused. Not once in all the time, I knew him had he ever refrain from letting me read anything.

“Why?”, I enquired but he simply shrugged me off and continued reading with his glasses on the tip of his nose and a pencil stuck on his ear. I asked him one more time sometime later, while he wasn’t reading and he said, “It’s not time yet. Plus, it’s explicit.”

I had never heard anything more ridiculous, I knew damn well what explicit was; the times I had spent lurking on the internet enlightening myself on content that was definitely explicit for my age flashed by like it would in some racy movie. But now, I was curious. What was I not ready for? He had phrased that sentence weirdly. Like the explicitly of it wasn’t the only reason.

Plus, its explicit.

I didn’t ask him again.

One time, I was left alone at home so I pulled up a chair and took the book out of the topmost shelf and read the first chapter. Nothing struck me as remarkable and I’d certainly not gotten to the explicit parts. I kept it back, with hardly any thoughts about it.

For a long time after this, I was incurious and not being able to read Norwegian Wood didn’t bother me as it used to. A year later, I wrote my boards and a few months later I moved to Kochi.

In my new house, time was rotting away without the internet. While arranging a bookshelf one day, I spied Norwegian Wood. This time, when my father found me reading it in a corner while they were labouring away with furniture he didn’t say a word. Maybe, it was time.

Some nights later, all the lights in my house were out except mine. It was the last few pages of the book and I couldn’t afford to put it down now and go to sleep. It was almost like a delicate thread was tied around my fingers that would cause something to collapse if I did as much as move. When I was done, I realized I was crying. I say this with uncertainty because it took me by surprise that I was. Nothing inside me felt heavy, it didn’t hurt, but I was still crying. Like, crying was the involuntary action my body had to perform after reading Norwegian Wood.

It wasn’t an extraordinary story, nobody was extraordinary, nobody did extraordinary things but I felt so moved. It was fiction but no piece of writing had felt so real, up until then.

It was 2 am but I grabbed my phone and typed out a paragraph in complete upper case to my best friend and went to sleep.

I didn’t tell another person ever about Norwegian Wood. It was a deeply personal experience; it was just a book but I didn’t want anyone reading it just yet. If they end up not liking it I would be heartbroken- although they aren’t entitled to like anything because I do. That was three years back. I’ve had lots of conversations over the years about Norwegian Wood to lots of different people since then.
I met a guy at a basketball game once. We talked and exchanged numbers and started dating and a few months later, he wanted to read Norwegian Wood because I was supposedly too attached to it. I refused to lend him my copy cause I dislike doing so but he went the extra mile and found one himself. I never got a chance to meet him after this because he left to Canada a few weeks later. Sometime after, he sent me a message on facebook.

“I’ve finished Norwegian Wood and I am very disturbed. This is a very twisted, beautiful book but you should stop reading it again and again. It’s so sad. How do you manage to?”

I can’t recall how I felt about this but over the years a lot of people have asked me how I manage to keep reading something as sad. I cannot tell why but each time I do, there is always something new that strikes me, like a chord on the guitar Reiko would play.

I was never disappointed.

After Norwegian Wood, I have read a lot of Murakami’s works and I’ve come to realize that most of his books are spun off a pattern. There’s always a cat that disappears or talks, a very sad woman who’s personal trauma transitions into her being dysfunctional at sex, ear fetishes, weird coitus, superpowers, meticulous descriptions of cooking, long walks and 60s jazz.

I’ve never been to Japan but with these books (and anime) I had a preconceived notion of how it might be and at the risk of sounding like a weeaboo, I wanted to go to Japan and possibly meet Haruki Murakami before he dies, considering he’s become rather old. A constant complaint lodged against him, on the internet was that he westernized the place too much and Americans who read his novels go to Japan, very often find the place nothing as they expected. Regardless, I still wanted to go, even if I won’t find jazz bars or mysterious women lurking around everywhere.

There are these random Norwegian Wood facts my father would tell me from time to time:

how its the one book by Murakami everyone in Japan has read and how the song from which the title is taken from, represents the emotions of the entire youth in Japan. A kind of sadness that I can’t ever understand is what I suppose the 70s kids must’ve felt.

The times have certainly changed since then, what with technology and books that make me feel like I’ve had bad coffee, but I still read Norwegian Wood when nothing else excites me to remind myself of the many things I can’t put on paper.

see also:

Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist Book Review

The Kite Runner Book Review

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1 Comment
  1. Melissa says

    thanks for sharing your story 🙂
    I watched the film Norwegian Wood before I even knew Haruki Murakami. After having watched the film I immediately bought the book and fell in love with Murakami’s writing. Norwegian Wood will forever be my favorite book. I felt like Murakami shares little pieces of wisdom on almost every page. It is such a unique experience that really evokes emotions in the reader. I think some people will never understand this sensation, Murakami doesn’t write for the masses.
    Btw, I’ve been to Japan, and yes, of course, reality is always different, but I wouldn’t say his works are really ‘westernized’. Murakami always depicts looners that see the world in a different way, one has to be aware of that when going to a place they only know from books or movies.

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