Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森): my first taste of Murakami on film

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

Norwegian Wood. Named after the Beatles song released in the 1960s. That’s also when the story is set, at the start of the Vietnam war, with the Japanese public up in arms over Okinawa being used as a base from which American forces were being launched. (It wasn’t subbed, but you could hear the protesters yelling something like “return Okinawa!” in the background.) But in the middle of all that upheaval, ‘ordinary’ people just kept trying to cope with life and love. And for Watanabe and Naoko, with heartbreak and death.

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Shiki – the many faces of human nature

The village was surrounded by death. Houses and fields spread out from the river, sealed into the tip of a spear by a forest of conifers. This forest wrapped the village in ‘death’. It laid out the village boundary, and also its isolating barrier. Its trees were grown for the dead. The village used them to produce the wooden grave markers and wooden coffins that fed its economy. Right from the start, the village had been born to produce ritual objects for the dead.

And within that forest of firs was a country of the dead, their grave markers the firs themselves. The people of that village still buried their dead. Each villager had a burial plot on a small fragment of land, and there their remains would be interned. There would be no gravestone. To mark the abode of the deceased, a wooden grave marker would be erected. And after the thirty-third anniversary of their memorial service, that grave marker would be taken down and a fir planted in its place. A fir planted, and then forgotten. By then, the dead would already have returned to being a part of the mountain, bereft of connections with the living.

There is a bridge that spans the distance between that world and this one. And the opposite side, the shore of this world, surrounded on three sides by death, was already isolated from the rest of this world.

The people there served death; they prayed for the sake of the dead.

From the time it was born, the village had existed for that purpose.

ーadapted from Seishin’s essay at the start of the novel.

At the start of summer, a strange malaise descended on this village. Its inhabitants started disappearing, into the ground, and into thin air. The shiki had come…

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Quick Review: The Broom of the System

This is a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading. The first novel by the late David Foster Wallace, it was born from a comment by a former girlfriend, who said that “she would rather be a character in a piece of fiction than a real person”. In Broom, Wallace explores the difference between the two through Lenore Beadsman, a young woman who is unsure of whether she is real or not. According to whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry, “the controlling idea surrounding all of these crises are the use of words and symbols to define a person.”

At first glance, definitely an interesting concept about identity that seems like it would be steeped in philosophical jargon. But the reason Broom was a challenging book was not due so much to difficult words, but rather to the uniqueness of its writer. Although any attempts to describe Wallace in a sentence can never give him justice, to put it simply, DFW was a genius whose mind never let him stop thinking, whose brilliant analytical tendencies eventually led him to take his own life. The threads and tangents he follows are manifested in long, verbose sentences, with many phrases wrapped around each other, wound and twisted to the extent that the reader can lose the thread before reaching even the end of one of these thoughts. Wallace himself once noted that Broom feels like it had been written “by a very smart fourteen year old,” and that is probably the most succinct yet accurate description that anyone can give it.

In summary, whilst I would recommend reading some of DFW’s essays and speeches for a uniquely intelligent, if verbose, take on a number of existential questions, his novels are definitely not for the faint hearted. If you decide to pick one up, I wish you good luck and more. You’re definitely going to need every ounce of perseverance that you can master.