South of the Border, West of the Sun is a book I’ve known years ago but didn’t have the chance to read because I can’t find a copy and I only want to read Murakami works on paperback. It’s unfortunate that I still didn’t find a copy but I need a Murakami fix to get me back to my reading so hello Kindle! The first thing that came to mind though when I read the title page was hope and suicide.
The book is about a man’s mid-life crisis, narrated by the 37-year old Hajime, born as an only child in Japan who met Shimamoto, an only child as well at the time when being a single child was rare in Japan. They formed a bond from there and had a strong connection, an innocent relationship but young love didn’t quite blossom and they started drifting apart when they started attending different high schools.
In high school, Hajime had a relationship with Izumi. He later met Izumi’s cousin then soon found himself having sexual affairs with her. Izumi was devastated and the relationship ended. He went on living his 20s without any serious relationships until he married Yukiko at 30. He loves her and their two daughters. Soon enough, he opened up a jazz bar and became prosperous.
Then Shimamoto reenters the picture as she shows up in the bar one night after reading a magazine article about a successful jazz bar and its owner. Hajime came to realize he’s still in love with Shimamoto when he saw her. She shows up every now and then until they eventually end up having a night of sex in Hakone. Hajime was willing to give all up for Shimamoto but she has other things planned.
I think Shimamoto’s character is one of the strengths of this book. Murakami never explained about what happened to her all those years but there were hints (though I’m not so sure of my interpretation of them), and that she’s tired of her life and existence. I only know that her happiest days were the time she was with Hajime as a child with a lame leg listening to music and was trying to relive those memories when he saw Hajime once again. All throughout the book, Shimamoto’s character pushes the plot forward but still, typical of Murakami, the specifics about her weren’t revealed. I’m used to Murakami’s female characters to be mysterious but somehow, I wished for more of Shimamoto.
Izumi and Yukiko’s characters were clearly portrayed and I easily identified with their emotions but when it comes to Hajime, I neither liked nor disliked him. He was just a voice narrating his erratic life story.
South of the Border, West of the Sun is almost devoid of surreal elements. Murakami here focused generally on love and heartache. He painted us an honest portrayal of a man dealing with mid-life crisis by allowing Hajime to express his feelings. No author has ever gave me that feeling of melancholy the way Murakami does. It’s not always that I get to read books that convey intense feelings this much. Murakami is very skillful on this and the translation by Philip Gabriel is excellent.
This by far is the most conventional Murakami I’ve read and this somehow reminds me of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and also Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which I intend to reread sometime soon. The love affair wasn’t as heartbreaking as that of Toru Watanabe’s but probably the book wasn’t meant to let us totally sympathize with Hajime.
Funny how I was reminded of someone the entire time I was reading this. It’s sometimes hard not to wonder about the past most specially when things can’t be changed, but still I wonder what could have been…
This is a short read but definitely one with words and emotions that stay with you long after you’ve finished.
“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”
“I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply. I should have learned many things from that experience, but when I look back on it, all I gained was one single, undeniable fact. That ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centered, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.”
“The sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”
“…some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”
“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”
Rating: 5/5 stars