Stoic Toru spends most of his time during the two years after his best friends suicide in a fog, as an observer, never, it seems, breaking out of his monotone. And in his voice we read this tale of love, lost and gained, which makes up Haruki Murakami’s fascinating novel, Norwegian Wood.

While Toru admires such books as The Great Gatsby, reading them over and over again, he never does say which of the characters he relates to most–is it Gatsby himself or is it Nick Carraway or is a combination of the two? Since he almost always seems to find himself as the third wheel (with Naoko and Kizuki; or Naoko and Reiko; or Nagasawa and Hatumi; or Midori and her father), he seems a likely Nick Carraway, but like Nick, maybe there is more Gatsby in him than he realizes, for people are drawn to him.

For me, the most touching scene in the novel is when Toru opens up to Midori’s dying father. They are alone and it is, perhaps, the first and only time we see Toru talking to someone without that person drawing conversation from him. In fact, he becomes a regular chatterbox by telling the man about Euripides and deus ex machina. And then the two share a simple meal. Here, Toru seems to be breaking out of the fog that has taken over him since Kizuki’s suicide. He is being won over by Midori, the young woman whose charm and lightheartedness in the face of tragedy cannot help by bring some light into his life.

In the end, one loses count of how many people commit suicide or otherwise die or disappear in this narrative, but what is key is that the others, those left behind, manage to carry on, to keep going, to show their strength and resolve. To live. The question remains open as to whether Toru (is he even alive?) and Midori will end up together but what matters is that there is potential for it to be so–at some point, in some life.

I realize I’m late to the party in reading this novel, but I’m awfully glad I did. While it is depressing in many aspects, what it left me with was a great sense of hope and a belief that maybe love does conquer all.

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