“I was 37 then…”


It’s funny how time is something so present in our lives and at the same time so abstract that we can’t really grasp it.

When I first read Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, I was in my early 20s. I picked up a copy of the book and would read it on the tube while I was living in London. I still love Murakami, though not his behemoth 1Q84 – to me that was like an unrecognisable brick of bad writing next to the organza-like beauty of Norwegian Wood.

This passage remains my favourite opening passage of any novel because it engaged my emotions completely. I was so young then, I didn’t have any concept of what being 37 was like. It was an abstract idea in my mind that I’d reach that age one day (if I was lucky) and I couldn’t begin to picture what it would be like. At 21, the idea of turning 37 feels like trying to envision walking on Mars.

This opening chapter took me by the hand and walked along with me as I felt the immense nostalgia and sense of loss that Toru, the main character felt. I felt his sense of longing, could practically smell the plastic insides of the plane, looking over the gloomy clouds on another journey to nowhere, as he bends over, overwhelmed by his sadness and desperately missing a time that he can never go back to.

And now, 37 has arrived for me. I no longer own the original version of the book. I lent it to a young doctor from Syria who wanted something to read to pass his time as he waited for a way out of Greece to Germany. I remember standing beside him at the bookcase and raiding it, but hesitating a moment before I gave him my copy for Norwegian Wood. It’s one of my favourite books, and I knew I would not be getting it back.

But in the end I reached for it along with a few other novels and said “Here, I think you’ll like this one. It’s one of my favourite.” And so I gave it to him, knowing I would not be touching that book again once it left my fingers.

In the past week as my thirty seventh birthday approached, I kept thinking about this book and this opening passage. I kept thinking “Here you are, here is 37, just like Toru in the book, and now you get it.”

Yesterday, I went to Public in Syntagma and asked them if they had a copy. They did. The cover art is from the (bad) movie of the novel, but it’s okay. The inside is all still the same. And in the decade and more since I bought my first copy of this book, my cover has changed too.

I no longer need to imagine that gut-wrenching feeling of loss and nostalgia that Toru experiences in the opening of the book. I no longer need to imagine what it must be like to try and recall the face of someone you loved who isn’t there any more, or to helplessly watch someone you love fall apart.

It’s something we all get to, in the end, one way or the other. So if you’re 21 and reading Norwegian Wood and thinking that 37 seems so old and so far away and so impossible, rest assured, it’s coming for you, and it’s not as strange as you think it’ll be!

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