We All Need a “Midori”, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Kobayashi Midori is a prominent character in the novel, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Well-known for his fantastical stories, the simplicity of this novel may surprise you at first but then you ease into it, only to finish it needing time to process what you’ve just read.

Luckily for me my friend, Carla, had recently finished reading the book and so I sent her a message on Facebook. Below are selected parts of the conversation because I’m trying to avoid spoilers.

Carla’s responses are in purple:

…the ending got me rolling. like Watanabe being disoriented but it gave a limbo impression. Like he just died and hadn’t realized it

“Midori was the BEST. Every book needs a Midori I knowwww that ending!!!!”

“EVERYONE NEEDS A MIDORI”

“I’m choosing to interpret it as momentary confusion because the alternative is too sad hahah it’s so true though!”

“yeah momentary confusion – i understand – BUT what would inflict that?”

“I kind of don’t want to know”

I DO! I’m a curious little shit


However, despite it being illogical for Toru to have died or be in limbo, the word choice for that sentence still leaves an unshakeable inference to limbo. Also, talking to Carla made me realize that Toru being alive was more profound considering the “curse” (I borrow the word “curse” from Carla) that seem to cling to his best friends, Kizuki and Naoko. It’s as if him being alive broke the cycle and I believe Midori helped him.

The novel begins with the protagonist, Watanabe Toru recalling his youth, stirred from listening to the Beatles song, Norwegian Wood. A bulk of the story takes place in the past, narrated by Toru, as he pursues a degree in Drama, encountering (as Carla puts it beautifully), “fantastical characters” who are complementary with the simplicity of the plot. I being 20, naively thought I would be able to relate but it was more of me being a spectator as events unfolded.

Focusing on the two leading female characters, the contrast between Midori and Naoko is like a black slate next to a white one, with a bit of gray in the middle. Naoko is kind, reserved, and  beautiful, but the way she is presented puts me off because she seems to be more of an idealization. Especially considering what happens from pages 173 – 174. I didn’t understand what I was reading so I wrote a question mark on a post-it just so I could come back to it. Re-reading those pages again, it’s as if Naoko is elevated to the level of divinity-

After googling moon goddesses, I read about Selene, the Greek moon goddess, and her relationship with Endymion for the first time. I think the myth might have inspired this scene considering both include the moon as a dominant element, Toru is in this dream-like state and is in complete awe of Naoko’s seemingly flawless body. So we’ve got the moon, sleep/dreams, and the interaction between a mortal and a seemingly divine being in common. I feel I might be on the right track but I’m not going to settle for this reference. What other myths or interpretations could there be? What’s the function of this? Maybe a subtle way of foreshadowing that they were never going to be together since Toru may be awake in contrast to Endymion who is asleep…

Our faces were no more than ten inches apart, but she was light years away from me (p.172)

Midori, on the other hand, is weird, loud, and has no shame. When I’d read her rants, I’d feel so drawn to her, laugh, and would think how I would love to meet a person like her. You come upon her opinions, criticisms, kinks, humor, and grow to appreciate the development of her friendship with Toru. The following is one of my favorites and presents their friendship nicely:

Midori laughed out loud. “You’re so weird! Nobody talks about Euripides with a dying  person they’ve just met!”

“Well, nobody, sits in front of her father’s memorial portrait with her legs spread, either!” (p.303)

Where is the shame with this one?

Shamelessly entertained by Midori’s rants whilst wanting to hug her for acting strong despite the amount of loss she endures, Carla helped me realize that Midori serves a higher purpose than entertainment and tugging on heartstrings. Our discussion developed into the possibility of her helping Toru readjust to reality and staying alive.

Reiko is another interesting character. I love how she is described in the book, especially the details of her wrinkles. Growing up in a society that seemingly rejects the aging process, the portrayal of her wrinkles as a form of beauty puts me in awe. Despite Reiko seemingly taking on the parent role to Toru, talented, caring, and an amazing support system to Naoko, what happens with the 13 year old and later with Toru leaves me conflicted.

However minimal, the comic relief offered by Storm Trooper and Midori is highlighted because this is such a melancholic book filled with death and pain from unrequited love. One more thing I’d like to point out is that there appears to be various transitions that take place. The most relatable one was Toru’s transition from Ami Hostel back to the city, where all the noise and vulgarity returns. From the unnatural quietness of Ami Hostel to the noisy urban space, I felt that spaces like Toru’s dorm room and Midori’s home offered a delicate inbetweeness. Something you come to appreciate if you regularly migrate between a noise fest and a place too quiet for comfort.


I actually bought this book a couple of years ago and finally got a chance to read it. I’m not sure what drew younger me to it but I’m glad I bought it. I’m super glad I read it now because I don’t think I would have appreciated it had I read it earlier.

Presently, I’m reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

-MS-

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Yes it did.

Happy New Year to you all! May your survival game be stronger this year!

Anne Fadiman’s novel, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, was the last book I read in 2016. I found it at a thrift store near my university for less than a dollar fifty, still in great condition. At first reading it seemed like giving myself extra course work because it wasn’t hard to imagine this book being assigned to students. But I’m genuinely interested in learning about different cultures, reading sociological and anthropological narratives,and the book had such an appealing price

What actually won me over was “A Hmong Child” printed on the book’s cover. In all my life I had never consolidated the word Hmong in my head. It was a ridiculous realization and eradicated any hesitation to read this book. The other fascinating thing is that it combined Medicine and Cultural Studies and so I was extra certain this book was going to be a learning experience.

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My copy of the novel/ me planing out this blog post

Essentially, the book narrates the struggles the Lee family faces when they migrate to Merced, America, where their beloved child Lia falls sick. The struggles and the conflicts that come after make you sympathetic and frustrated. Additionally, the author smoothly integrates Hmong historical and cultural context (reading this novel was way more efficient than scrambling on the internet) that provides further understanding of their rituals, beliefs, migratory pushes, just to name a few.

I recall feeling a wide range of emotions with this novel. For one, frustration, especially at instances when the doctors would talk to Lia’s parents without a translator, when the Hmong Parenting style explained in the book was deemed abusive by the dominant culture, and the general sense of how the Americans reacted to the Hmong immigrants (what I read didn’t surprise me). Honestly, I feel that America would be the one who has a fit every time a new person sits at the lunch table, especially after reading the list of foreign settlers in the Central Valley and how each had difficulties settling down.

To be honest, the rumors The Hmong and Americans spread about each other were amusing, I rolled my eyes when reading the “Dumb Hmong Stories” (page 226), and was mortified when reading the acts of violence against the Hmong instigated by welfare. Only to be surprised with this:

Although on the battlefield the Hmong were known more for their fierceness than for their *long livers, in the United States many were too proud to lower themselves to the level of the petty criminals they encountered, or even to admit they had been victims – page 193

(Long Livers referring to the Hmong saying “Ua siab ntev” that describes one being patient and enduring suffering and wrong doings)

The author acknowledges the pressure on the receiving side but how does being hostile help? Do you just dub it human nature? How do you expect them to find jobs when the skills they have and value doesn’t align with paid jobs? However, the Hmong do settle down (I say this loosely) and try to get use to the system with help of clan members and brilliantly thought out loop holes.

Another point this book pushes forward is the lack of cross-cultural understanding within Western medicine. The conflict and the tension between the doctors and Hmong patients exemplify this: The cases Anne Fadiman provides in chapter 18 and ,an unforgettable moment for me, the chapter “Code X”, when Lia responds to the traditional medicine despite prior events. I found myself relieved, whispering that it was a miracle.

But now, I feel uneasy calling it a miracle.

Around this point in time, Lia’s health deteriorated so much that any mistake could cost her life and then her father, Nao Kao, springs into action, and I’m just there confused whether to root for him or not because of the fragile disposition of his daughter. Despite it all, Lia is alive by the end of the chapter.

On the surface, it seems miraculous but what holds me back is that labeling this miraculous seemingly strips away the legitimacy of the traditional medicine. In other words, that the herbs the parents use seem to become this fantastical element rather than genuine medicine. Excuse me, I may be over-analyzing but think about it whenever you read about someone drinking a homemade remedy and they claim to feel better – doesn’t your mind automatically label it as a miracle rather than medicine?

Which brings me to my issue with the dominant nature of Western Medicine. I’m in no way criticizing it’s advances in Medicine but the rhetoric it seems to carry is that there isn’t much space for legitimizing other forms of healing, i.e. the Hmong practices. This is a fairly recent secret opinion but I felt kind of reassured when I spoke to my professor when we were discussing the memoir Paper Sons and Daughters by Ufreida Ho, inspired by the author calling her grandmother’s remedies “hocus pocus”. The main idea of that conversation was the act of healing the body stems from centuries ago and from many cultures, but only Western Medicine seems to get the credit and everything else is labelled “hocus pocus”.

I feel I need to say this, I’m in no way saying you should drink green tea if your arm is cut off either. Because another thing The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down presents is the belief system that comes with their healing processes. Not a sliver of doubt is presented among The Hmong when they use their own medicine and I think that adds to my fascination with belief. Moreover, there is also compromise.Towards the end of the book, Anne Fadiman dedicates pages to initiatives that promote a more cross-cultural and compromising perspective for Medicine which is optimistic since this book  was published in 1997.

However, the one thing I didn’t really grasp was why the author ended it with the “Sacrifice” chapter. It was a very ambiguous ending. I’d like to believe that the ceremony helped Lia. What confuses me is that the author had been indirectly building up on how legitimate the Hmong healing methods were but ends the novel on a note that gives a contradictory impression.

I think this book is well-written, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in cultures or loves learning in general. To borrow the title and to expand on what I meant by “Yes it did”, It took me roughly six months to read this book .Blame my packed semester and my lack of time management. Despite that, I’m proud of myself for not giving up on it.

I’m currently reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

I hope this year will not leave me or you crawling out of it by December

Happy New Year!

-MS-

Extended greetings to all and your loved ones!

My Christmas has been joyous and I hope yours as well. I’m home now and it might be raining (too lazy to check). The hype has mellowed out and I feel like writing. I’ve been going through my journal and I found a little comment on the most random page about how I wanted to start a book blog when I started university. I think my past self would be happy with my progress.

Keep warm.

-MS-