Toru Watanabe has just arrived in Hamburg, Germany. When he hears an orchestral cover of the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood”, he recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Flashback to almost 20 years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendship, passion, loss and desire – to a time when an impetuous young woman called midori marched into his life and he had to choose between the future and the past. (some quote from outline on back of the book)
I guess the theme of most of this novel could be something like sadness, depression, loss and desire… In the story, the main character Watanabe loses three people who are important to him. Young Watanabe’s best friend Kizuki, his girlfriend Naoko, and girlfriend of Nagasawa(a student of Tokyo University whose friendship with Watanabe) Hatsumi. Those three people’ death changed Watanabe’s life massively.
Because Kizuki committed suicide on his 17 birthday, Watanabe felt huge loss and depressed. Kizuki was his best friend that time. I don’t even want to imagine what it’s like if it happens to me. After years of his death, Watanabe sees Naoko again. He hasn’t seen her since Kizuki’s funeral. It has been enough time since then, so they starts seeing each other again.
At the same time, Watanabe meets a student of Tokyo University, Nagasawa and his girlfriend Hatsumi. Nagasawa and Hatsumi feel comfortable being with Watanabe just like Kizuki and Naoko felt. Also Watanabe meets a drama classmate Midori. She has everything that Naoko doesn’t have – outgoing, vivacious, and supremely self-confident. Despite his love for Naoko, Watanabe finds himself attracted to Midori as well. Midori reciprocates his feelings, and their friendship grows during Naoko’s absence.
Watanabe visits Naoko at her secluded mountain sanatorium near Kyoto. There he meets Reiko, an older patient there who has become Naoko’s confidante. During this and subsequent visits, Reiko and Naoko reveal more about their past. Reiko talks about the cause of her downfall into mental illness and details the failure of her marriage, while Naoko talks about the unexpected suicide of her older sister several years ago.When he returns to Tokyo, Watanabe alienates Midori through both his lack of consideration of her wants and needs, and his continuing thoughts about Naoko. He does not want to hurt Naoko, but he does not want to lose Midori either.
However Watanabe puts his efforts on Naoko’s emotional stability and recovery, she killed herself. He grieves and wanders aimlessly around Japan. After about a month of wandering, he returns to the Tokyo area and gets in contact with Reiko, who leaves the sanatorium to come visit. Through an intimate conversation that Watanabe and Reiko share in the night, he comes re-realise that Midori is the most important person in his life.
This may be an excessive expression, but I felt the whole story is an epitome of life. He face to huge depression over and over again, and he doesn’t find any solution. However he has to keep thinking what is right to him, and what to do.