There are layers to our brain — a thick, pondering gray and a soft, emotional pink within. I think that if there were a supernatural development to our noggins, it was that the grey matter came from the absorption of our world’s natural sepia tone. College is a strange time, of many colors for sure, but perhaps the tinge that most sticks to our brains is the color grey, the outer ring. It’s an aspect of our world that we tend to both notice and not notice the most, like the persistent blur of a fan. It’s this filter, this tone, that Haruki Murakami captures so well in the book “Norwegian Wood,” so much so that a mere two days after reading it, I felt the insatiable thirst for more self-reflection I didn’t necessarily enjoy, and indulged my masochistic tendencies by buying his newest book — “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.” I’m sure I’ll find myself in a similar spot next week, reading while shirking my duties and obligations, lamenting the old absence and the new, the grey tone and the black tone of missing. But before I ramble more about a book I haven’t truly delved into yet, I would like to unravel what I found so scintillating yet humbling about “Norwegian Wood,” for you, and myself — two for revelation: one for introductions and another for insight.
“Norwegian Wood” details the recollections of an older man, Toru Watanabe. The book concerns his life in the 1960s as a young Japanese student attending college in Tokyo, an easy parallel for us at Yale. Toru’s transition to his university follows the tumultuous end of his high school years, which involves the death of his best friend and his lingering affections for a shared woman, Naoko. I won’t reveal any further spoilers beyond the first 20 pages (I think that’s fair), and I don’t have to. I could have read the first 20 pages and still have experienced a calm resonance in my sanctum. This is not to say the book is laborious in its telling -— it’s fewer than 400 pages — but rather that “Norwegian Wood” lends itself to further contemplation that compounds and, ultimately, is deeply satisfying. Reading 20 pages would ripple your pool of thought, while reading the whole book would trigger a continuous oscillation of somber understanding and the combat between the world’s blasé and fraught realism.
This also isn’t to state that “Norwegian Wood” is an existential mind opiate that dissolves the reader into a quiet and sullen stupor in the face of the world’s meaninglessness. While the motive of the book is to discuss the omnipresent grey in our vision, the story does have plenty of colorful surges and quick hue pokes, so to speak. Nostalgia rings through, beginning with the title’s allusion to the world’s biggest band. Murakami, perhaps in a way unintended, gives us insight into American cultural influence in the 1960s — that it was simply enjoyed around Japan, yet not pervasive or overbearing. Nowhere, in the book at least, did American culture seem dominant, but rather it was a neat shop in an extensive mall of cultural appreciations; it reminds me of how we here appreciate all sorts of musical exports, like K-Pop and Bollywood. Murakami also does well in using American cultural references selectively to advance the story and its realism, all the while dabbling in emotional drips that speckle the reader’s heart. He picks songs that are not only recognizable to any reader, but that fit their respective listener’s situations, and in this way reflects the weird coincidences making up our world that constantly but intermittently strike us.
Really, that is the beauty of Murakami and Norwegian Wood. It doesn’t try to be an epic parable or a tome to change the ages and their direction. Rather, it defines the modern experience. Toru doesn’t proselytize, and in actuality he really doesn’t perform notably much other than observing and feeling. He’s not Hamlet — he’s us, he’s our world. And, in this way, Murakami architects a cistern for us, a place for our feelings and sympathies so we can then, with intense scrutiny, observe our lives — what we mean to be and where we are going.