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 : 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

 

H for Himmel

"The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.
What good were the words?" – The book thief

Oh but when it comes to rules, I do find myself breaking most of them from time to time. However, there are those rules which I wouldn't dare challenge. One such rule is the one about not writing a book review without actually finishing a book. Bound by this innate compulsion, I put a brave fight to not write a review today. Well , almost. Rules are meant to be broken. I do love the loopholes. I found one today. Conformance meets rebellion. Win-Win.

Himmel. The word means heaven in German. There are times when I wonder about the heavens. There were many times when I had teased my mum about her theory of finding peace in the Himalayas. 'Why go all the way there to find peace? Why cant you find it here, in our house?'. Our arguments would reach a stalemate and we skip to other things to fight about.

The word of the day is Himmel. I want to talk about it. Himmel is also the name of a place where the story of the book unfolds. But enough about that book. I've treaded far enough already. The restless curiosity in me at the verge of eruption. If only I could fake an ailment, scuttle back home and find comforts of my bed and continue reading the book. If only!

How would you describe a Himmel? Is it the land of clouds, harps, angels, grass and greenery, scenery that would gather a billion likes on instagram if shot and uploaded without filters. 2 billion likes with the filters used. What does heaven sound like? Is it a land of serenity , far away from the reach of the common bloke. Is death the only eligibility criteria to enter the gates?

The answers could be as diverse as possible. The answers would only be limited by the imagination of folks responding to the question. Heaven is all set to be whatever we choose for it to be. There are ideas of rules and imposed ideologies that surround it. What can I say, rules… what good are they if we don't dare breaking them from time to time. The purist version of heaven is in place to keep most of us away. The classification of life, the nature of life lived, the acknowledgement of living by a given code, yadi-yadi-ya… in the modern age, it's called discrimination.

Similar to the thought along Himmel, what does it mean to have a happy life? Happiness is a lot to a lot of people. Unlike heaven, the description of happiness is not limited by the creativity or insanity of the mind of the responder. This is limited by wistfulness. Happiness , that happy life is everything that we currently lack. It probably would be a precursor to all the things that we'd have robbed away from our own selves. Sad and true and inevitable. By virtue of reasoning, that places happiness as one of the most lucrative sour grape. There, and just a whisker away from reach.

I asked myself a question today. In fact, I asked my self a question that was asked to me yesterday. Do we need an adversity to appreciate the valour in us? Do we need catastrophe to realize that there is a hero in us? Do I need to lead a miserable life to acknowledge what it means to be alive? The answer is an assertive NO. I realized the celebration of life through tears.

As the book went on, in a random instant, I felt overwhelmed emotionally by what I had just read. Instinctively and subconsciously, I shed a few tears. I stayed aware of where I was and realized I had a stranger staring at me. He looked at me, he looked at the book and I guess he wondered what the hell wag going around. I felt a little silly , weeping like a little ducky and a little flushed embarrassment later, I closed the book and decided to read it later. Two things happened then.. actually make it 3.

1. I wanted to cry freely , to my heart's content, in the safety and privacy of my house, till I could vent out the sadness from the book.
2. I realized that the book was more about a celebration of life. It was not a death that brought tears. It was a fond cherished memory of the characters lives that broke me down.
3. I felt super satisfied at accepting the humanity in me, to feel comfortable enough to cry a little. I felt alive.

Life without acknowledgement of life is barely a life at all. Yes, just like Himmel, we'd want to paint a million shades to our definition of happy. If this.. If only that.. Had I had that….. All I need is that…. and Cut the EXCUSES. We feel comfortable refusing to accept that we are capable of being happy the way we are. We refuse to acknowledge the little things that we achieve and accomplish each day. We refuse to let our smiles live in dignity, without fear of being compared to a imaginative figment of happiness whose only purpose is to keep us in a state of stasis, acting as a carrot at the end of a long stick. There are a lot many days where we can be happy with what, where, when, who and hows of being ourselves.

I guess celebration of life is not meant to follow once the curtain falls and the actors disappear into obscurity. Everything is just a state of the mind. Except Poverty.. take that Mr R G!

Karthik

Machine and learning 

Was an obscure point in time. I reached out to my smart phone which claimed to be a lot smarter than I have ever been. Ten digits dialled and a voice that reminded me that I had not paid my bills later, what I heard next left me in a shaken state of a mind. Fear gripped my heart and I couldn’t help but imagine a series of things that might have gone wrong. The automated reply said “The subscriber’s mobile is switched off”.



Was an obscure point in time again. This time around the ten digits of magic dialled resulted in an assurance that there was a delay in the making. The answering machine had kicked in. Or as we call them today, Voice mail. “Hello, you’ve reached……… please leave a message after the beep”. And beep. I shook my head in frustration and that was there. There was nothing that I could do to reach out that that obscure point in time. 


Obscure point. Only this time, the phone rang and the call was promptly cut. I refused to let my pride and ego kick in. I dialled the digits again. The same experiment, the same results. A few emotions ran high in my mind and I tossed aside my phone like it was the harbinger of doom. Anger’s first ever reaction has always been a burst of violence. The cushioned comfort of my car’s seat kept the mobile alive that day. I reached home. I wasn’t quite myself that evening. 


A million obscure points in time. magic digits dialled and a smile on my face after I heard the living human answer the phone. And smiles indeed.



Something happened today that made me recollect these few moments where I’ve stayed amused at the play of the act of calling and the calls being answered. What triggered this , is nothing short of a rude awakening of sorts. 


“Dude, can you please pray for me.” the message had read. My friend of twenty years, my brother at arms when we screamed our lungs on a stage riffing loud guitars, my friend who was as crazy as I was at music concerts, today wanted a humble prayer. “Call me when you can man”, he had messaged. We both are rockers, macho guys at heart. We don’t believe in male bonding by talking to each other and sending silly messages and forwards everyday. We both have lived assured that we are friends and will always continue to be. We have never ever felt that need to catch up from time to time. Moments come , and we crash gates at our houses. We chill out. That’s us.


Prayers. “I no longer question if prayers go heard and answered anymore. It offers a comfort that only a heart in pain can understand. The cynics will never know the simplicity of such a warm comfort” Karthik


I will da. I comforted him. I meant that. Sincere too. The call left me wondering. If I were to compare the nature of prayer , which is a means to dialling magic digits to reach god, then one of the following happens

1. The subscriber’s mobile is switched off – as in God aint around to answer. Exists, but has made a choice to disconnect.
2. The subscriber is busy – As in there, but busy! duh! your call is important to us, you are placed in a queue. We will get back to you. Voice mail
3. The call that gets cut – Guess god don’t like ya anymore! 
4. A smile after we witness a miracle. 


Unfortunately, when we call fellow humans, the act of getting a busy tone, a voice mail or even the call getting cut off, it’s a sign. It’s an acknowledgement that there is someone out there who is very much alive. 

The concept of God does not work that way. There is no voice mail in place. Our prayers are usually unidirectional. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the voice that says I’m on queue or a busy message. It’s a moment of a leap of faith. 


I’m no doctor. I’m not even the nicest person on the face of this planet. I sure am not on God’s nice list. In fact, my prayers don’t really stand much to deliver. Yet, it served as a medium of comfort when my friend needed it the most. 

Why question logistics, proofs, semantics , and derive logic over something that is built on emotions. Hope, faith, belief, comfort, assurance. There is no logic in the world that stands to rationalize the comforts we derive from something that is so volatile and that which changes rapidly. Emotions!


I learnt a wonderful lesson from a machine today. The answering machine. If god chooses to have one. It’s not about prayers going answered or miracles unravelling in front of our eyes. It’s about a moment of peace which may stand to give us courage to deal with what is to come next. I’d like to believe in that. I choose to believe in that. I could be wrong , but hey, it works and I’m not going to go about tinkering with things that are working! 


Karthik