Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Norwegian Wood Read-Along: Chapters 1-4

Norwegian Wood Read-Along
Chapters 1-4

I'm participating on Reading Rambo's Norwegian Wood Read-Along.  If you're interested, go ahead and sign up!  We just started reading and I'm sure you can catch up if you want to join.

I have so much to say.  I hope this stuff makes sense.

The first thing I want to point out the Murakami newbies are the references to ears.  Murakami's fiction is littered with references to the shapes of people's ears.  I have to assume that he finds a special beauty in ears.  In these first four chapters there were four references to female ears.

The second thing I want to point out is the reference to Western music and literature.  Notice that Toru never reads or really consumes any kind of Japanese or Eastern media.  It's all Western music and authors. There are references to Japanese authors, but Toru seems to have nothing but contempt for these writers.  Western music is a staple of Murakami's work.  Murakami himself once owned a jazz club and has said that he take a lot of inspiration from Western music.

Norwegian Wood doesn't have any alternate worlds or shadowy figures or other fantastical elements that are prevalent in Murakami's fiction, but I did feel like each of characters that Toru spends time with seem to inhabit their own reality.  Scenes with Naoko feel distant and muted and melancholy whereas the scenes with Midori have a certain brightness and color.

I love all of the characters - except Toru.  He's just so bland and sad.  But I don't hate him, I just want to pick him up, give him a hug and move him forward.  Dude needs help.

But I'm not sure what it says about me that I'm finding myself thinking less about Toru, Naoko and Midori and more about Storm Trooper.  This kid built a nice room for himself in my head and he's been hanging out and trying to get me to recognize how important he is to understanding Toru.

Let's start with his nickname.  He has no proper name, just Storm Trooper.  Given that Norwegian Wood takes place in the 1960's, this isn't a reference to the Star Wars films but rather to the stormtroppers of Nazi-era Germany.  The sturmabteilung were a paramilitary part of the Nazi party that were commonly called "brown shirts" since they typically wore a brown shirt as their uniform.  The stormtroopers were known for their blind, fierce allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi party and often carried out acts of violence against competing political parties.

Storm Trooper in Norwegian Wood awakes to the raising of the national flag and the nation anthem and then he does the Radio Calisthenics, dresses in exactly the same outfit and goes about his day.  All of his actions have a certain militaristic quality, from the atypical cleanliness of the room to the all-or-nothing approach to the Radio Calisthenics.  Toru is slightly annoyed by this, but he conforms to the cleaning schedule and choice of posters on the walls.  He almost seems to like it.

Toru becomes known for rooming with Storm Trooper.  Funny stories about his roommate become Toru's bridge to connecting to other people.  It's his thing.  But I couldn't help but notice that Toru never really says anything.  He tells his stories about Storm Trooper and that's about it.

Storm Trooper seems to signify the last remaining vestiges of old Japan in the youth culture and it's no surprise that after the university protests and riots over the summer, he doesn't return.  Toru attends all of his classes, but he doesn't respond to the calling of his name when attendance is taken.  He walks out on protests and thinks of the protesters as "assholes."  He is alone in every way, maintaining Storm Trooper's habits, working and attending class.  He's perpetually outside of and separated from the culture that surrounds him.

I've got some other thoughts on how Naoko represents his old busted life and Midori represents the new hotness and that the stuff going on at the university is kind of like a macro version of his relationship stuff, but I don't think I've got that all worked out yet - plus there's so much story to go!

One more thing is that Toru is only really able to communicate well with Kizuki (dead) and Nagasawa (sex machine) as a sort of catalyst.  He's kind of adrift otherwise.

Final quick thought - in the other translation of Norwegian Wood, Storm Trooper isn't called "Storm Trooper" - he's called "Kamakazie" instead.

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