I can’t say this review is exactly timely. Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s "Norwegian Wood" was published in 1987 and finally translated into English in 2000, so I’m about nine years behind schedule.
"Norwegian Wood," though actually one of Murakami’s earlier works, was translated later than most of his previous novels. So, perhaps it’s a departure from his previous style, but it feels that way at times. The afterward explains that this book wasn’t received very well in Japan because it seemed to lack the symbolism inherent in Murakami’s earlier works.
More or less, the criticism is that "Norwegian Wood" exists mainly as a simple love-triangle between a nineteen-year-old man and two of his female contemporaries. Though it certainly feels less politically weighted (maybe because Toru Watanabe, the first-person narrator, has removed himself from the student revolution that occurs over the course of the book), "Norwegian Wood" actually deals pretty heavily with the life-death paradigm and teenage sexual exploration.
Though the story is often tense with touches of magical realism (common descriptions of people split right down the center of their psyche, which isn’t very surprising considering that one of the hallowed heroines actually resides in a secluded mental hospital), the book’s straightforward approach to life, death and sexual awakening is refreshing, shying from erotic descriptions and conquest play-by-plays.
Due to it’s college-aged narrator and constant accessibility, "Norweigan Wood" is a surprisingly quick read for all of its semi-heavy themes, and would be excellent to squeeze into your semester schedule.