Book review : Norwegian Wood

Cover Page of Norwegian Wood, Murakami

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an infinitely difficult tale for me to review. It’s not because the tale is beyond a justifiable review, it’s solely because I am blinded by the emotions that I’d bring to the table when I talk about this book. I shall do my best to alienate myself from the book while I attempt to review this Masterpiece.

Norwegian wood, a song by The Beatles, also happens to be the song that the leading lady of the tale likes. Naoko. Toru Watanabe is the narrator and this story revolves around his life, how it intersects with Naoko , Reiko and Midori. The book is a testament to the predictability of how unpredictable our reasoning becomes when we face challenges that test our emotional stability. In short, Love, is the most predictable means to call out how we become unpredictable because of it.

N.W is a simple tale of love. Toru, his best friend Kizuki and K’s girlfriend Naoko are a trio. The story takes place when Toru is aged 17. Kizuki kills himself which leaves a void in Naoko and Toru’s lives. It’s a void that is beyond repair. It leaves a gaping hole in their lives. Toru and Naoko move to Tokyo, each pursuing their education. Toru and Naoko seem to find solace between themselves and Naoko , one fine day, exiles herself from Toru’s life. Toru feels the icy talons of isolation once again.

He later comes to know that Naoko , who is suffering from depression, has checked herself into an institution. Naoko reaches out to him through letters. Toru makes it a point to visit her and that’s when they meet Reiko. Reiko is Naoko’s roomie and she’s also a victim of a breakdown. There is a new trio that is formed.

While all of this happens, Toru meets Midori and finds her to be full of life, a quality that he misses both in his life and that in Naoko. She represents everything that Toru misses. Toru is in love with Naoko. Naoko is imprisoned by her depression. She’s a broken version of what she can be. She’s unable to reciprocate that love. Her solitude leaves Toru in a state of solitude. Midori start to fall for Toru and he feels the conflict.

So far the plot of the book does point towards the simple fact that love can get as complicated as one wants it to be. It’s not the mere words of love that this book represents. It is a hurricane of emotions that each of the character expresses. The volatile nature of emotions, the impact of such emotions on our lives, the way our lives affect the lives of folks around us, and this book absolutely , precisely rams the hammer down the perfect nail.

As the protagonist suffers the misery of helplessness of his love, we feel his pain. We feel the pain and misery that keeps Naoko trapped. Her inability to jolt herself off her depression, the toll and strain that has on the love, the residual sadness and guilt of Kizuki’s death, a world of walls keep the lovers apart. Toru’s love for Naoko keeps him disconnected from Midori. Midori’s solitude finds comforts in Toru.

It’s not hard to imagine the way love flourishes through pain and sadness. Each character is trapped , waiting and longing for that special attention. Each character denies that special attention to someone that desperately seeks from them. We are left with human nature in its rawest unblemished form.

What happens to the love? Whose love finally endures the test of time? Whose battle with depression, loneliness finally sees the light of dawn? The story goes on to conclude in the most fashionable way that readers of Murakami are now used to.

I loved this book. This book struck a chord and I couldn’t keep myself away from living the characters in my head. The book expresses a lot of themes.

We find it hard to accept but the under appreciated truth to many of us is the fact that we put our happiness in someone else’s hands. The tale is a testament to that fact. There is the side of love that the book ventures into. Love, while is empowering, it also has the capacity to render us helpless. There is frustrated helplessness plastered across the walls of this tale. Then comes the big elephant in the room, Depression. What I loved the most about the book is that it portrayed a picture of Love in the time of a depression. I guess it’s hard in real life as it’s conveyed in the book.

The book also explores the fact that people are drawn to certain people. Toru is broken inside, he finds himself gravitating towards Naoko, Midori and Reiko, and all of them are broken too. Like attracts like, I’d presume. There is a certain nativity in such pain. We draw and reach out to similar folks.

This book is most definitely not about giving up on life. The broken lives of Toru and Naoko represent the baggage of the past. Midori represents the present. Reiko represents the way future unfolds. It’s a convoluted thought that connects the characters to the linearity of time. But that’s how I see it. Toru and Naoko are anchored to the past and hence neither is able to move on. Midori on the other hand, represents life. She’s the one character that makes choices in the right time. It’s just a matter of time for her to realize if her choices were right or wrong. Reiko represents the future. She is both an outcome of the past, and also changes with changes to the choices that are made in the present.

For what it’s worth, somewhere , some time in the future, I’ll read this again. I love this book!

Karthik

Book Review : One hundred years of solitude

A hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a stifling tale of the Buendia family. It picks off with Jose Arcadio Buendia and a lot of kids named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano later, the book speaks about the very meaning of solitude that does transcend generations in the Buendia family. There is no short and easy way to capture the tale. It is a progressive journey that makes us ponder all the way at every stage and every generation that gets added to the family tree.

The characters are obviously the strength of the book. Jose Arcadio Buendia, his wife Ursula , their kids Aureliano Buendia and Jose Arcadio Buendia and daughters Amaranta and Rebeca are wonderfully pictured across the many pages of the book. The madness kicks off with the third generation. As the family tree expands, one can't resist but observe the way the solitude of their lives concentrate to grow into the very core of what that represents the family.

The book is a masterpiece. The varying degrees of solitude that is captured , painted, lived and experienced by the characters is a true enough reflection of the loneliness that plagues our own lives. In that sense, this book blurs the boundaries between real and fiction. Loneliness is , as experienced through both life and the confines of the book, not a single event that occurs at a random single point in time. It is a circle of sorts. Lives that have loneliness at their epicentre, have the capacity to travel the world, meet a million people, share a million laughs and yet embrace the cold arms of being lonely. The book does not shy away from introducing us to this aspect of loneliness. It's not the number of people that we are surrounded by, it's just how many do we let into our mind that calls out the solitude.

Coming to the plot, it's convoluted. J.A.B is in a pursuit of lot of things. Science, truth, alchemy, business acumen, gypsies and the many wonderful mysteries and secrets that they have in their hearts. The purist pursuit pushes him to the brink of alienation. Ursala, his wife, most definitely the strongest woman in this saga of men and women, works towards keeping the family together. She's a miracle worker and through the century of her existence, you'd fall in love with her tryst and will sympathise with her life.

Aureliano , who grows up into Colonel Aureliano; a man of legend, a man who led the civil war (oh yeah, a civil war breaks out between liberals and conservatives) a bloke with a loooooooooooooooooot of kids, a man consumed by ideologies and a man who hits upon a crystal realization that helps him view the war. The way Aureliano matures, grows drunk with power, very much outlines the life of those among us who crave that power for the reasons that helps us sleep at night. Aureliano does not beat around the bush and hide behind the veils of denial. This is a man who knows the price that he pays for the choices he's made.

The plot dwells across a few touch points. The life of J.A.B, the rise and fall of the colonel, the tribunals of Jose Arcadio, the mystery that Amaranta is. The rivalry between the sisters, Amaranta and Rebeca. Throw in kids, their kids, their kids and we have a tale that constantly keeps converging. That segways us to the themes explored in the book.

The entire tale is set in the town of Mocondo. All characters manage to find their way back home. Of course, they do leave their homes , the course of life kicks in, they all revert to Mocondo for varying reasons. That convergence of life itself is a theme that is expressed in the book. No matter how far we are from our roots, we still gravitate towards it in some capacity.

Then comes the ghosts. Yes there are ghosts in the tale. Ghosts , to me, represent the past. They are a bridge to a point in time in the past. These ghosts do not haunt everybody. They are selective. Which is a reflection of how our choices in life are anchored and defined by our past. The longer we indulge in the past, the longer we stay haunted by it, the longer we struggle to come to terms with it, the longer we find ourselves struggle to reconcile with the present.

Solitude, a word that is featured in the tile, plays a major role in the book. The book is a testament to the misery that is life. It is there because we let it be. All the characters experience that alienated loneliness. Some, because of their choices. Some , because of the way how fate intervenes. The way the characters deal with their solitude is a fantastic portrayal of how we cope up with the coldness of our lives. Drowned in work, lost in passion, we exhibit the same symptoms that the characters do.

I enjoyed the book. I loved peeking into the lives across generations of the family. I smiled at the simple fact that most of the characters were trapped in time, caged in habit and resistance was futile. It did make me wonder. I couldn't tell where the fictitious nature of the tale blurred and where the mirror to the society started.

Give it a read. 🙂

Karthik

Book Review : Never let me go , Kazuo Ishiguro

nlmg

 

Two down, three more to go. On a whim, I picked five books from the list of 100 books to read before you die. I started that journey with , The book Thief, Book review : The book thief, this is the second one that I’ve survived.

 

Right off the bat, Never let me go , personally, was not a easy book to read. I struggled with it. It is a slow paced narrative that captures the lives of three friends, Ruth, Tommy and the narrator, Kathy. Endure it, the book rewards you with more questions that challenge the status quo of life itself. I’m glad that I endured the first slog. The questions that you’d be left with in the end, necessarily are the questions that you’d be asking yourself. You could be asking yourself. I have a few doing numbers in my head now.

 

The story starts off at Hailsham which is a boarding school. I reckon the narrator and her friends were right about 10 when the their tale starts. I could be wrong, but their ages would be in the ballpark of early teens. Their school is a special school indeed. There is a very limited connect with the outside world. The school has it’s own eco-system. It runs it’s own economy in the form of sales and exchanges. Typical kids, typical teachers whom the kids refer to as Guardians. A lot gets told and a lot gets told as the story goes on. The book, is the recount of the narrator when she’s in her thirties. The narration effortlessly switches between the two point of views of Kathy. The things she now knows at 30, and the things she’d eventually end up figuring out in due course of time.

 

I’d probably refrain from giving out the plot. Life happens and friends fight and split. They get back together and do things change? Does love really blossom, is there true love in the world? All these questions would go answered by the book. These are the bits that wouldn’t really matter when you reach the end. There are far important questions that beg to be answered. I can only hope that we , the readers, manage to find the answers to all those questions.

 

I can’t help but wonder about life right now. Given the context of life, If I could meet God, if I wanted her help, would I brave asking her? Would I have the strength to listen to the one true north of the truth? Would I have the courage to sit through that conversation? What if God were to tell me that I always had it in me to solve all my problems, face all my challenges ? What if god were to tell that she wasn’t interested in my petty life and that I was an insignificant speck to her? Could I handle the truth?

 

This book follows a path of destiny. The characters are ,in course of time and probably deep down were, always aware of their destiny. Why do we have a destiny? Why do we not challenge it? Why do we not fight for it or fight against it? Why do we succumb and surrender to it instead of trying and failing at a shot of changing the very course of it? Why indeed. Why do we eventually give up? Is it because we grow tired and weak and numb from the things we endure? Is it because resistance is futile? Is it because we feel compelled to oblige to the grand scheme of things?

 

Would it be any different if we had that sight of that destiny? Is that sight of the future the root cause of all our failures in the name of compliance? I don’t know. I feel angered by the very thought that I am a puppet and I’m suspended by strings.

 

There are themes to the book which I both enjoy and mull thinking about. The nature of creator, that is god, if we are in her image, do we not deserve the liberties and luxuries that god enjoys? There is discrimination and we all suffer it and tolerate it. While reading the book thief, all I could see was life. The juxtaposition is ironic. While all I got to read here was about the lives of the friends, all I could see was death. Both books bank on the inevitable nature of death. Both books outline the life that is lived while we wait for the death’s eventful embrace.

 

I loved the way their friendship was explained in the book. They start as thick as thieves, they drift apart, they converge and life’s final full stop. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the people I’ve left behind. Wistfully, I indulged a few thoughts about the times that were. Ironically, the book reflects life. With bills to pay, life to lead, we do overcome such challenges with people and we are often left with no time to dwell in the past.

This review barely scratches the surface of what the book has to offer. In light of spoilers, I am forced to leave you with generic questions that would haunt your mind post the read.

For what it’s worth, I feel happy that the book delivered on it’s promise. It did leave me questioning humanity and humaneness , just as the book said I would. It’s been a hard read.  I don’t know if I’d really recommend this for public consumption. Read it at your own discretion. The list of 100 before you die, this book does deserve it’s place there.

 

Karthik