‘Norwegian Wood’ was my first foray into Murakami’s world. I was quite surprised to know that ‘Norwegian Wood’ was published in 1987 and I hardly knew of it for so long. I guess the fascination for an all-encompassing literature beyond the US-UK landscape is more recent.
I am not a music lover, and as for Western music, I know of nothing except maybe Taylor Swift. So, I had to wait for the pages to turn and divulge from where the book gets its title. Norwegian Wood is about Toru Watanabe’s story of finding love and meaning in life, with two female characters – Naoko and Midori against a background of the student movement in Tokyo. Naoko’s favourite song is Norwegian Wood. The original Japanese title of the book is ‘Noruwei no Mori’ translated as Norwegian Wood. Naoko’s character holds an important position in the book than that of Toru as her emotional instability shadows Toru’s life.
The wood in the Beatles’ song refers to ‘wood’ while in the book, it is more in the sense of ‘woods’ or ‘forests’. Forests indeed form an important imagery in the story with Naoko and Toru taking the long walks at the sanatorium.
On my copy of the Norwegian Wood, the cover illustration is by Noma Bar and the design is by Suzanne Dean, the Creative Director at Penguin’s Vintage. This duo has created the iconic ‘black-white-red’ colour palette for dystopian genre under the Penguin’s Vintage book editions.
In an interview, Suzanne Dean had said that she came up with the concept of the symbolic circle for Murakami’s books in 2012 and this design has been a recurring feature on the covers ever since. Hence creating a series of visual metaphors on the book covers. Regarding the image on the cover of Norwegian Wood, Suzanne Dean said, “It’s Noma’s playfulness, and the fact there’s an image within the first image and maybe you take a little bit of time to see it, which works with Murakami’s playfulness”.
Within this white circle imposed on or cut out of the red background, black tree trunks are casting their shadows. You look a bit longer and the trees transform into the legs of three persons. To me, the one at the front is Naoko. The one that seems distant is Midori. And, the one turned to walk away is Toru casting a long shadow of his past. There is an intersection or a box-shaped black blotch; perhaps it is just a figurative way of creating ‘H’ for Haruki as the top only mentions Murakami.
On second thoughts, I feel that the two legs on the left of the cover are Toru and Naoko walking in the woods but their relationship is haunted by Kizuki’s long cast shadow on Toru. The shadow of the legs walking away from the two characters is casting its shadow on only one character. So it could be Naoko on the front. Understandably, the earlier book covers have sought to project Naoko’s picture on the cover. On a metaphorical level, the image could be different paths these characters take and their intersections as destined.
The Barnes and Nobel edition has the green marshy woods on the cover and aesthetics of white circles and straight plus dotted lines on the play.
You may also like a post on Norwegian Wood Book Review
The Japanese movie adaptation of ‘Norwegian Wood’ came out in 2010; based on the movie poster were the movie-tie-in book covers. I am not sure if there is an English dubbed version. And, because the poster has unfamiliar actors, I cannot connect with them on the book cover…sigh! (If you think there is an English dubbed version available then do let me know in the comments section :-))
In 1997, Vintage Books designer John Gall had created a universal look for all of Murakami’s paperbacks. To quote John Gall on the design for Norwegian Wood, ‘For Murakami’s most straightforward narrative I wanted a straightforward cover as well. Then, I focused on a woman’s face because it’s a love story, really, and added a sixties vibe.’