This is my first ever Murakami book. I was told that this is unlike any of his other books in that, it is only a 'simple love story'. But, what a love story it turned out to be! It was definitely not simple and certainly not predictable.
The book's title comes from a song by Beatles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lY5i4-rWh44). Before I picked up this book, I was not aware that there was such a song by the band. When the protagonist of the book, Toru Watanabe hears this song, he is transported back to his college days and his first love Naoko who considers this her favourite song. I identify with this sentiment; I am often reminded of someone or the other whenever I hear a particular song that I associate with them. The book is set mostly in 1969 Tokyo when Toru and his girlfriend Naoko attend University.
It is a story that every person who has ever gone to college will identify with – the conflict of emotions you go through, the dislike for a particular course you do not want to study, the tragedy of trying to fit in with your friends, university politics, and, of course, falling in love and trying to make sense of it. And Toru is no different. In the course of the book, he also meets the vivacious and extroverted Midori. It's a struggle for Toru who feels that he now has to choose between either of the two girls.
Murakami is a master storyteller and, for me, the book was an absolute page-turner. However, as much as I enjoyed reading about the main plot of the story (featuring the three protagonists), I also loved reading about Tokyo and its streets and the trains and the restaurants Toru and Midori frequented. Murakami was able to make me feel as if I was right there in the middle of Tokyo observing the events as they took place.
Also, as much as the book is a love story, it is also a story about dear friendships. Because without a dear friendship, can there really be love? And while one may eventually stop loving somebody, the friendship would still remain.
I loved how the book is set mainly in 1969; Woodstock happened the same year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodstock) and one of my most favourite songs ever also happens to talk about the 'Summer of 69' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9f06QZCVUHg).
It is very easy to love Toru who is as clueless as any other teenager on the cusp of adulthood. But he is sincere and caring and committed and quite serious when it comes to relationships. As Midori says somewhere in the book when she is telling Toru why she loves him, "You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don't know the answer to something as simple as that?"
Toru is a bibliophile; some of the books he mentions in Norwegian Wood include John Updike's The Centaur, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Raymond Chandler, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, William Faulkner's Light in August and Hermann Hesse's Beneath The Wheel.
I really enjoyed this book though I did feel equal parts depressed and equal parts angry in the course of reading it. But, I guess, if any book does that to you, then it is a well-written one. Go read it if you want to experience love and heartbreak Murakami-style; you will not be disappointed.