Norwegian Wood (novel)

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True, given time enough, I can remember her face.
Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a billiard table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.
Only the dead stay seventeen forever.
When you start at zero, you've got a lot to learn.

Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森, 1987) by Haruki Murakami and translated by Jay Rubin is a Japanese novel focused on the theme of relationships. It was the author's first mainstream success in his native land, and one of the most popular translated Japanese novels in the Western Hemisphere. It is narrated by the character of Toru Watanabe.

Chapter One[edit]

  • True, given time enough, I can remember her face. I start joining images - her tiny, cold hand; her straight, black hair so smooth and cool to the touch; a soft, rounded earlobe and the microscopic mole just beneath it; the camel-hair coat she wore in the winter; her habit of looking straight into my eyes when asking a question; the slight trembling that would come to her voice now and then (as though she were speaking on a windy hilltop) - and suddenly her face is there, always in profile at first, because Naoko and I were always out walking together, side by side.
  • I'm confused. Really confused. And it's a lot deeper than you think.
    • Naoko

Chapter Two[edit]

  • Death exists - in a paperweight, in four red and white balls on a billiard table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.

Chapter Three[edit]

  • Each day the sun would rise and set, the flag would be raised and lowered. Each Sunday I would have a date with my dead friend's girl. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was going to do.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • I would stare at the grains of light suspended in that silent space, struggling to see into my own heart. What did I want? And what did others want from me? But I could never find the answers. Sometimes I would reach out and try to grasp the grains of light, but my fingers touched nothing.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • Only the dead stay seventeen forever.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • "It's not that I don't believe in contemporary literature, 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."
    • Nagasawa

Chapter Four[edit]

  • [...] even if we hadn't met that day, my life might not have been any different. We had met that day because we were supposed to meet. If we hadn't met then and there, we would have just met somewhere else sometime.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • "Nobody likes being alone that much. I don't go out of my way to make friends, that's all. It just leads to disappointment."
    • Toru Watanabe
  • "Life doesn't require ideals. It requires standards of action."
    • Nagasawa
  • "A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do but what he should do."
    • Nagasawa
  • "Being able to say you don't have any money [is the best thing about being rich]. Like, if I suggested to a classmate we should do something, she could say, 'Sorry, I don't have any money.' Which is something I could never say if the situation was reversed. If I said 'I don't have any money,' it would really mean 'I don't have any money.' It's sad. Like if a pretty girl says 'I look terrible today, I don't want to go out,' that's O.K., but if an ugly girl says the same thing people laugh at her."
  • "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 couldn't stand it."
    • Midori Kobayashi
  • "You'll die with me?" Midori asked with shining eyes.
    "Hell, no," I said. "I'll run if it gets dangerous. If you want to die, you can do it alone."
    "Cold-hearted bastard!"
    "I'm not going to die with you just because you made lunch for me. Of course, if it had been dinner..."
    • Dialogue between Midori Kobayashi and Toru Watanabe
  • "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."
    "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?"
    "Life doesn't require ideals. It requires standards of action."
    • Dialogue between Nagasawa and Toru Watanabe

Chapter Six[edit]

  • What made [the houses] look strange it's hard to say, but that was the first thing I felt when I saw them. My reaction was a lot like what we feel from attempts to draw unreality in a pleasant way. It occurred to me that this was what you might get if Walt Disney did an animated version of a Munch painting.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • There were no loud voices and no whispers, no one laughing out loud or crying out in shock, no one yelling to another person with exaggerated gestures, nothing but quiet conversations, all carried on at the same level. People were eating in groups of three to five. Each group had a single speaker, to whom the others would listen with nods and grunts of interest, and when that person was done speaking, the next would take up the conversation. I could not tell what they were saying, but the way they said it reminded me of the strange tennis game I had seen at noon.
    • Toru Watanabe (In describing a mental facility's dining area.)
  • The ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green, the people wrapped in yellow looking like special spirits that were allowed to wander over the earth on rainy mornings only. They floated over the earth in silence, carrying farm tools and baskets and some kind of sack.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • Next door was a shop where a middle-aged, sleepy-eyed guy sold "adult toys." I couldn't imagine why anyone would want the kind of sex paraphernalia he had there, but he seemed to do a lot of business. In the alley diagonally across the from the record store I saw a drunken student vomiting. In the games centre across from us at another angle, the cook from a local eatery was killing his break time with a game of bingo that took cash bets. Beneath the eaves of a shop that had closed for the night, a dark-faced homeless guy was crouching, motionless. [....] Every fifteen minutes or so I would hear the siren of an ambulance or cop car. Three drunken company employees in suits and ties came by, laughing at the tops of their voices every time they yelled "Piece of ass!" at a pretty, long-haired girl in a telephone booth.
    The more I watched, the more mixed-up my head became. What the hell was this all about? I wondered. What could it possibly mean?
    • Toru Watanabe (In describing a street scene)
  • "That's when I noticed she looked taller than usual. What was going on? I wondered: it was so strange! Did she have high heels on? Was she standing on something? I moved closer and was just about to speak to her again when I saw it: there was a rope above her head. It came straight down from a beam in the ceiling - I mean it was amazingly straight, like somebody had drawn a line in space with a ruler."
    • Naoko (In describing her discovery of her sister's suicide)
  • "I have a lot more patience for others than I have for myself, and I'm much better at bringing out the best in others than in myself. That's just the kind of person I am. I'm the scratchy stuff on the side of the matchbox. But that's fine with me. I don't mind at all. Better to be a first-class matchbox than a second-class match."
  • "I feel like Kizuki is reaching out for me from the darkness, calling to me, "Hey, Naoko, we can't stay apart.' When I hear him saying that, I don't know what to do."
    • Naoko

Chapter Seven[edit]

  • How many Sundays - how many hundreds of Sundays like this - lay ahead of me? "Quiet, peaceful, and lonely," I said aloud to myself.
    • Toru Watanabe
  • "I don't know, I feel like this isn't the real world. The people, the scene: they just don't seem real to me."
    • Toru Watanabe
  • " People are strange when you're a stranger."
  • "But it's the working class that keep things 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?"
    • Midori Kobayashi
  • "They're scared to death somebody's gonna find out they don't know something. They all read the same books and they all throw around the same words, and they get off listening to John Coltrane and seeing Pasolini movies. You call that 'revolution'?"
    • Midori Kobayashi (In reference to college 'revolutionaries')
  • "And what is a revolution? It sure as hell isn't just changing the name on city hall."
    • Midori Kobayashi

Chapter Eight[edit]

  • "If you think about it, an unfair society is a society that makes it possible for you to exploit your abilities to the limit."
    • Nagasawa
  • "I look around me sometimes and I get sick to my stomach. Why the hell don't these bastards do something? I wonder. They don't do a damn thing, and then they bitch."
    • Nagasawa
  • "If you're in love with someone, can't you manage one way or another with her?" Hatsumi asked after a few moments' thought. "It's complicated."

Chapter Nine[edit]

  • "When you start at zero, you've got a lot to learn."
    • Midori Kobayashi
  • Speaking of Midori, she sounds like an interesting person. Reading your letter, I got the feeling she might be in love with you. When I told that to Reiko, she said, "Well, of course she is! Even I am in love with Watanabe!'
    • Letter from Naoko

Chapter Ten[edit]

  • Maybe what Hatsumi had said to me had had some effect: I could make myself feel far happier just thinking about Naoko than sleeping with some stupid, anonymous girl.
  • "I have to pay the price to go on living"
    • Toru Watanabe
  • "Just remember, life is a box of cookies"
    • Midori Kobayashi
  • "Just remember, life is a box of cookies"
    I shook my head a few times and looked at her. "Maybe I'm not so smart, but sometimes I don't know what on earth you're talking about."
    "You know, they've got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don't like others? And you eat all the ones you like,and the only ones left are the ones you don't like as much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. 'Now I just have to polish these off, and everything'll be OK.' Life is a box of cookies."
    "I suppose you could call it a philosophy."
    "It's true, though. I've learned it from experience."
    • Dialogue between Midori Kobayashi and Toru Watanabe
  • Death had already taken John Coltrane, who was joined by now by so many others. People screamed there'd be revolutionary changes - which always seemed to be just ahead, at the curve in the road. But the "changes" that came were just two-dimensional stage sets, background without substance or meaning.
    • Toru Watanabe (In describing the year 1969)

Chapter Eleven[edit]

  • Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life."
    • Toru Watanabe

External links[edit]

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