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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Book Cover

“That song can make me feel so sad,” said Naoko. “I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me. That’s why Reiko never plays it unless I request it.”
– Naoko about Norwegian Wood 

“It makes me feel like I’m in a big meadow in a soft rain.”
– Naoko about Michelle.

“Thinking back on the year 1969, all that comes to mind for me is a swamp – a deep, sticky bog that feels as if it’s going to suck off my shoe each time I take a step. I walk through the mud, exhausted.
In front of me, behind me, I can see nothing but the endless darkness of a swamp.
Time itself slogged along in rhythm with my faltering steps. The people around me had gone on ahead long before, while my time and I hung back, struggling through the mud. The world around me was on the verge of great transformations. Death had already taken John Coltrane who was joined now by so many others. People screamed there would 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, backdrops without substance or meaning.
I trudged along through each day in its turn, rarely looking up, eyes locked on the never-ending swamp that lay before me, planting my right foot, raising my left, planting my left foot, raising my right, never sure where I was, never sure I was headed in the right direction, knowing only that I had to keep moving, one step at a time.” – Toru Watanabe

I’d been waiting for a book like this all my life. A book which holds my hand and takes me to a special place. I don’t know who I am in that place, I only remember what I felt. This is it.

They caressed an intimate part of my soul, those idyllic summer afternoons in college spent listening to Rubber Soul with a battered book in hand. I was happy to be exactly where I was. I had nothing to do and nowhere to be. I could have lain there and listened to the opening strains of Girl again and again. Like McCartney, I just needed someone to hear my story. I was very glad to be lost; in conversation, in reflection, in anything which catalyzed and spurred on my natural instinct to dream. I felt like a child who has wandered away after school and has no intention of going home until he has seen some unfamiliar parts of the city. A little part of me was in a crowded street lined with colourful stalls selling delicious food. Another part of me was on a crowded bus looking at adults going about their business and feeling grown up. The world was full of endless possibilities, all of them in parallel realities, comfortably within the reach of my invincible spirit . I was delightfully disoriented, my mind continually wandering, pausing to reflect on women, to the finer aspects of Paul’s bass playing, then moving on to the futile task of figuring out my favourite Beatles album.

I was walking down a long corridor of white doors with oak shelves of thoughts and bouquets. I opened one door and found myself in a row of ebony doors, which glistened in the light like someone had splashed water on it and then wiped the floor beneath it clean. I was bewildered to see that there was no way out of this corridor. I went on opening doors, making my way through endless corridors until I reached a corridor with a grey stone wall which stared back at me. The wall dissolved into a girl who had pleaded togetherness through teary eyes. It turned into her fingers brushing against my cheek for the last time, into her lingering scent on my clothes. Then I opened my eyes and the wall reappeared. I trudged along the edge, scratching the wall with my fingernails aching for the white door, but all I found was the wall whose austere intensity asked me to stop all further advances. I craned my neck to see where the wall ended and found a photo of George looking down at me. In my head, Here Comes The Sun started playing. Another song, another trip. On many a cool winter morning, I’d woken up, looked at my sun-tinted window pane and played this song, urged by habit and George’s gentle crooning. He was telling me to go and look at that magnificent sun. And so I did. I let that guitar strumming do what it does best, unclog my mind of everything trivially distressing. What remained was the unmistakable feeling of happiness waiting for me around the bend. It’s all right. It’s all right.

I had opened my doors to unspeakable things and a jungle awaited me on the other side. I didn’t know whether I should get into the fray or let my way take it’s final form. I thought I had it; the knowledge of knowing what I was doing.

Those warm afternoons and cool mornings are a bittersweet Beatlesque void in my mind. I ache for that time now and then. Norwegian Wood has the gentleness which comes close to filling that void. The book doesn’t fix a fist down the void and widen it. It fills it with honey, enough honey to warm my soul and send sugary shivers of nostalgia down my spine. It affords me one more look through the good ol’ retroscope.

This is a book which revels in the past, wallows in the past, afraid to move, trudges along the present dragging its feet on the road making a sound like the languid echoes of Death’s footsteps. This is a book about how Death and your past are not beyond your life, they are part of your life. They are part of who you are.

It is pervaded by a spirit of adolescent alienation. You know, that strange unshakeable belief that takes over us at some point in our lives. A voice which whispers to us our deepest fears, that we are vastly different from the rest of the world, that they don’t understand who we are and that it’s only our fault it is this way. But the tone of the book is not angry or bitter. On the other hand, it’s a gentle celebration of this aloofness. It makes you want to feel the intense emotions the characters experience; with dignity.

It’s about how close friendships influence our lives, whether you like it or not. At the same time it speaks of a spiritual solitude in us. We have to battle our inner demons at all times and places. No one else can know what’s on our mind. We can only hope to touch someone else’s life and change it in ways we’re unaware of. It tells us that we are players who meet each other at the football field for a game. At times we kick the ball around for a while, laugh heartily among ourselves and leave the field, slapping each others’ backs. Sometimes, we accuse each other of unfair play and forget it was just a game.

And all those girls. How can I forget them? Girls who were overcome by the grossness of reality. Girls who weren’t strong enough. Girls who didn’t want to be strong. Girls who wanted love. Love they thought they deserved, love they didn’t know they needed. Girls who shouted when they were angry. Girls who wept in the bathroom under the shower.

The simply seductive prose of the book calls for a sensory reading. A reading that is suspiciously like dreaming, as you are transported to a time and place that is unknown, yet intimate.