Book for February 2012
The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, a time when Japanese students, like those of many other nations, were protesting against the established order. While it serves as the backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold, Murakami (through the eyes of Toru and Midori) portrays the student movement as largely weak-willed and hypocritical.
Murakami adapted the first section of the novel from an earlier short story, "Firefly." The story was subsequently included in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
Following the actions of schools in Missouri and Virginia, a New Jersey high school district has yanked Haruki Murakami's celebrated novel Norwegian Wood from a reading list after parents protested its inclusion (Guardian). Murakami's American publisher, Knopf, delivered a public response.
Norwegian Wood was hugely popular with Japanese youth and made Murakami somewhat of a superstar in his native country (apparently much to his dismay at the time).
Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.
Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse (jazz bar, in the evening) "Peter Cat" in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife (1974-1981).
Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: The Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera), Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood (after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).
Murakami is a keen marathon runner and triathlete, although he did not start running until he was 33 years old. On June 23, 1996, he completed his first ultramarathon, a 100-kilometer race around Lake Saroma in Hokkaido, Japan. He discusses his relationship with running in his 2008 work What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.