Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Similarities Between "Norwegian Wood" and "The Magic Mountain"

In order to better understand many of the themes and motifs of Norwegian Wood and to experience of the masterpieces of modernist literature, one should read German novelist Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924). Any attentive reader will remember that Toru was reading the same book and even brought it with him on his first visit to Ami Hostel. To comprehensively explain the influence of Mann on Murakami is beyond the scope of this page, so I will make do with drawing some parallels for anyone who has also read the other book.

Although Norwegian Wood, like many Murakami novels, focuses substantially on personal loss, which is given less importance in The Magic Mountain, themes of the experience of time, maturation, love, disease, separate worlds, and death span both novels.

Ami Hostel draws heavily upon the Berghof Sanatorium in The Magic Mountain, where the head doctor is a consumptive himself who seems to believe that everyone is actually sick, though they may not know it. Toru jokes that he shouldn't overstay the few days he planned to stay, or else he wouldn't be able to leave; and this indeed is what happens to Hans Castorp, the similarly ordinary but very sensitive everyman protagonist of The Magic Mountain: he is diagnosed with tuberculosis and eventually stuck at Berghof for 7 years. Moreover, the two sanatoriums are similar in their separation from the outside world, whereby both form secluded utopian societies in themselves in which people come together in harmony in a way they would not be able to elsewhere.

Similar to the figure of Naoko is Clavdia, a Russian woman at the sanatorium whom Hans Castorp falls in love with. Both women are beautiful but sickly; just as Settembrini warns Hans Castorp against his love for Clavdia, which draws him away from life, so does Midori present herself as a healthy, living alternative to Naoko. On the subject of disease, there is also the sense that death and ailments are passed on through the family: Naoko's sister committed suicide, Midori's parents died of brain cancer, and Hans Castorp's cousin Joachim dies of tuberculosis.

Finally, both novels take place during times of great political upheaval—Norwegian Wood during the 1969 Tokyo student protests, and The Magic Mountain in the years just preceding the First World War. Both, however, deal with those events from a detached point of view in which the events intrude only occasionally; of course, The Magic Mountain's ending with Hans Castorp disappearing into the gun smoke of a First World War battlefield makes the historical point much stronger.