Book Review: Norwegian Wood

“No truth can cure the sorrow you feel from losing a loved one”

Sad but true!

I have never read a book like this, which is so depressing. The novel is

Norwegian Wood

Photo by writer

about young people who have to deal with vicissitudes of life. It seems that the transition into adulthood seems stressful. It talks about youngsters who fail to make transitions and life takes its toll, forcing them to end their lives.

The story revolves around three main protagonists: Toru Watanabe, Naoko and Midori.

Watanabe was the central character and flipping through the pages of the novel, you come across his emotional tale of growing up, his learning to accept responsibility for his actions and his ability to deal with loss and rejection. He lost his friend Kizuki, who committed suicide in high school. Toru, later on, went to Tokyo to pursue his studies. There he met Naoko (Kizuki’s girlfriend)

Naoko was sensitive and vulnerable, definitely influenced by the people around her. She lost both a sister and her boyfriend Kizuki  as they gave up their lives. Afterwards, she developed a romantic relationship with Toru. However, she knew she has psychological problems, and therefore checked herself into a mountain retreat.

Her letters to Toru was a depiction of sudden enthusiasm of youth, followed by capricious silences and sometimes philosophical musings.

While Toru and Naoko were having a beautiful bond, the complication arouse when Midori stepped in. Midori was the opposite of Naoko, she was outspoken and an optimistic soul. She was audacious to express her fondness for Watanabe.

Delving into Midori’s life, she had her own struggles to face. But she is not a pessimist, and therefore, she refused an easy way out to her struggles. To see her perspective about life, there is one quote which I want to share here:

“You know how they’ve got these cookie assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat up all the ones you like, and the only ones left are the ones you don’t like so much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. ‘Now I just have to polish these off, and everything will be OK’. Life is a box of cookies.” 

Other exception was Reiko, an older woman, who became best friend of Naoko in mountain sanatorium. She was the one who gave the kernels of wisdom that Toru gets to keep after all his emotional journey in the novel.

“Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of life”

The novel is set in Japan in the late 1960s, which were the most politically chaotic period in Japan. Like in USA and Europe, Japan witnessed its share of sexual revolution, radical socialist movements, and anti-Vietnam War protests, etc.

NorwegianThe title of the novel is inspired by The Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’. Murakami’s obsession with western classics and music is reflected in the countless references to Beatles numbers like “Yesterday”, “Michelle”, “Something”, Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti and literary works of Joseph Conrad, Fitzgerald, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and so on.

The novel’s structure looks like reading someone’s personal journal. There are some moments of touching sadness, but that’s all the book is really, just moments of sadness strung together.

This is my first foray to Haruki Murakami’s world, though it is not his best work , however, Murakami’s writing is subtle and beautiful. I am sure that the other book of Murakami (Wind-up Bird Chronicle) in my reading list will be much better than this one.

I rate this novel 4/5

 

 

Book Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

“Far easier for you to just stick with that depressing little job and complain about it. Far easier for you to sit tight and not take a risk and make out that everything that happens to you is something you could not help.”

How do you move on after losing your loved one? How one builds a life worth living when a person you loved truly leaves you in the midst?

moyes-after-you

Photo Collage: After You

Losing someone you love is very painful and grief is a natural response to loss. On top of grief and pain, you are forced to make changes that you are not prepared to make. It becomes hard to keep your life in line. You are supposed to look forward and let go of the past. You have to move on without feeling like you are betraying the one you have lost.

I was very anxious to read the sequel after reading the first novel ‘Me Before You’. In the first book, the quadriplegic Will wish to end his own life. Louisa Clark worked as caretaker of Will. Both fell in love for each other but probably not hard enough to change his mind.

In the second novel ‘After You’; Will’s death devastated Lou and she had no idea what to do

with her life.  Lou tried to cope with her loss and how grief had consumed her? How did she tackle Will’s death?

All these questions were brewing in my mind. ‘After You’ is an answer to all my answers about Lou’s life. It’s true that we cannot forget our love but once a person dies we cannot die with that person. We have to move on for our sanity. We need to take chances because we are still alive and life is short so to speak.

The novel is all about Lou’s journey, a bumpy process of accommodation to loss and the fear of starting over. She is stuck in a bartender job which she abhors; she wallows in her apartment in London until an accident forces her to be around her family and to try to move on.

There are two new characters that change her life. Sam who works as a paramedic who disentangles her from downstairs neighbor’s canopy and Lily, the teenager who barges in her home and in her life unexpectedly, claiming to be a daughter of Will. These two characters help her emerge from the dark place she is in.

‘After You’ has taken me on yet another roller coaster ride of emotions. I don’t know how the author does it, tackling death and the void it can leave us but Moyes has created absolute gems; she has a knack for breaking your heart before restoring your faith in love. Her innate ability to describe damaged people with complex lives is just brilliant. One would fall in love with weepy bits and witty bits.

The first series is a tear-jerker where the love evokes a  sense of desolation whereas the second one helps in making peace with the past and moving on and in doing so, it reminds us that ‘Life goes on!’

As per Moyes in her own words: “That’s life. We don’t know what will happen. Which is why we have to take our chances while we can.”

Book: After You

By Jojo Moyes

ISBN 978-1-405-90907-5

Pp 406

Seeking a proposal–a tiresome voyage for daughters’ mother

Happily ever after

Marriage is a beautiful feeling that brings a smile on one’s face. But once its process is unfolded, you find that it is not like any Cinderella story where the girl meets her prince charming; they marry each other and live happily ever after. A fairytale that has inspired many and who have grown up with this. But as reality strikes, they find that real world is not the way they assume it to be. Here, finding one’s other half is not easy as you read in those fairy tales.

The practice of finding soul-mate initiated way back when the world came into existence. It is not something new. ‘Finding soul-mate is just like finding home without any address. Nevertheless, recently the process of finding oneself a suitable proposal (rishta) has become a tedious task especially for girls’ mother.

Shamaila Akhtar, an Operation Officer at Bank Alfalah Islamic says that as soon as she passes the age of 20 her mother starts getting worried regarding her rishta for which she consults to relatives, neighbors and even marriage bureaus. Sabiha Khatoon, a housewife and mother of two daughters sharing her anxiety says, “There is a mindset in this society that the girl who is very young, highly educated and gorgeous is a marriage material and if she crosses the age of 25 or goes above 30, so it becomes difficult for her.”

Prior there used to be khalas (aunty) in the relatives or neighbours through which the proposals were sent, but as the society modernizes so these aunties have been replaced by matchmakers and marriage bureaus. But the question arises that are these matchmakers working properly?  Akhtar opines that these bureaus or match-makers have really increased anxiety of the daughter’s mother. Whereas, Khatoon says that it’s been four years that she is searching a suitable proposal for her daughter and for that she has consulted too many marriage bureaus. But to her utter dismay; she finds it of no use. According to Akhtar, these matchmakers and bureaus attract their customers through their sleazy conversation.  She says, “These matchmakers have an album of potential candidates of groom which is shown to the daughters’ mothers in order to get their early commission. But what is interesting that sometimes this album only has total three pictures which are shown to every candidate.”It is also one of the means to get some money beforehand.

However, Khatoon states, “These bureaus take the registration fees but they do not send the proposals and if they do so it is complete opposite of what you have filled in their forms.” She further divulges that in every registration form, she mentions the prospect groom to be well-qualified for her daughter who is also highly qualified, but seems like these bureaus do not pay heed to any of this detail, rather most of the prospective grooms sent by bureaus are not even graduated. Although she quips with faint smile that many times, regardless of bureaus so-called affirmations, you do not even receive a single call from grooms’ side.

While Mumtaz Qureshi, who is the owner of Clifton Women Welfare Society is the old player in this profession; she has been working as a matchmaker for nearly 20 years. According to her, registration is not a guarantee of marriage, out of 100 around 20-25 people are successful. She also clarifies that there are some bad eggs in this profession but not everyone is same.

On other hand, Najma hussain, a house-wife and having four daughters is also one of the victims of these matchmakers.  She points out that most of the bureaus are duped. She shares about her experience with one of the matchmaker named as Mrs. Khan who took Rs. 4000 and then she never called her back.  Hussain also indicates that most of the bureaus which she contacted are advertised on renowned newspapers though coincidentally, many of these bureaus just take registration fees, and after that never ever look call you back. The tricky part of earning money is their membership form which only lasts for three or four months, and then again you have to re-enlist yourself, says hussain. Moreover, Khatoon also complains that these bureaus are not sincere, they do have proposals but they only send to those who can give a hefty amount of donation.

However there is also a common worry that has taken daughters’ mothers into storm; meaningless demands mostly from the groom families who wants the girl to be very much beautiful, tall and of course not more than 25 years. The drawing-room culture has really victimized the girls and at times the process is so annoying that it leaves a bad scar on one’s mind. Asra Tariq, a business student at Biztek Institute reveals that she has been rejected due to her dark complexion or at times her ‘being too much thin’ becomes a hindrance. These rejections make her mother more irritating and that in a circle makes her too.

Besides Tariq also adds that there were three times when her rishta were accepted but then after a while they find some other flaws and it ended abruptly. This made her depressed and because of which, she also tried to commit suicide due to the depressive environment prevailed at home; although she survived.

While talking to Sabeen Jawed, a psychologist and former Human Resource Manager at Visionaries regarding the depression in unmarried girls and an outlook of families towards this syndrome, she opines that this depression in girls is due to the constant family pressure and she further says that if she does counseling of the girl; it is no use until and unless the girls’ family does not support or be there for their daughters. On the other hand, Jawed urges that family counseling is important to tackle this situation. Whereas a society, you need to have a focus group session in which one person should facilitate the problems and give strength to each other.

Moreover, Jawed says: “It is not easy to change the outlook of the society towards the matrimony, as there is a dichotomy that from childhood you are being told that it is all God’s wish, so why need to fret on this matter.” Having said that, one should have a strong belief that whatever God decides it is better for us, and instead of getting anxious, one needs to embrace the new avenues of life, states Jawed.