If you’ve paid attention to Nobel Prize contenders in literature over the past several years, you may have noticed that the name Haruki Murakami always seems to crop up. The Japanese writer has been prolific over the past two-plus decades, turning out numerous novels, short stories, and collections worth reading. You won’t find a bad Murakami book, but those unfamiliar with his work may be wondering: which Haruki Murakami book should I read first?
Murakami is best known for his surrealist novels, but his first realist one, Norwegian Wood, is perhaps the best place to start. The book took Murakami from “cult” status to the big leagues when it came out — and for good reason. The 1987 classic features relevant, global themes, a mesmerizing narrative, and one particularly empowering, intriguing character.
“Until Norwegian Wood was published, I was an avant-garde ‘cult’ author popular among young readers,” he said in an interview on his website. “Most of my books sold 100,000 copies but no more. But Norwegian Wood was picked up by readers across generations, sold over 2 million copies and became a phenomenal bestseller.”
If you’re worried about starting with an outlier of sorts, know that Norwegian Wood did influence his later work. He considered the project to be an “experiment,” but it was a useful one.
“I gained the confidence I could write this way; otherwise it would have been pretty hard to complete the work that came afterwards,” he said in another interview that appears on his website.
With its focus on a man coping with his friends’ depression and his own mental state, Norwegian Wood is similar to other Murakami work in that it explores aspects of the human condition, features captivating characters, and raises relatable questions. Once he hooks you, you can take on the rest.