In South of the Border, West of the Sun, the simple arc of a man's life - with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment - becomes the exquisite literary terrain of Haruki Murakami's most haunting work.
Born in 1951 in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Hajime - beginning in Japanese - has arrived at middle age wanting for almost nothing. The postwar years have brought him a fine marriage, two daughters, and an enviable career as the proprietor of two jazz clubs. Yet a nagging sense of inauthenticity about his success threatens Hajime's happiness. And a boyhood memory of a wise, lonely girl named Shimamoto clouds his heart.
When Shimamoto shows up one rainy night, now a breathtaking beauty with a secret from which she is unable to escape, the fault lines of doubt in Hajime's quotidian existence begin to give way. And the details of stolen moments past and present - a Nat King Cole melody, a face pressed against a window, a handful of ashes drifting downriver to the sea - threaten to undo him completely. Rich, mysterious, quietly dazzling, South of the Border, West of the Sun is Haruki Murakami's wisest and most compelling fiction.
©2010 Haruki Murakami (P)2013 Random House Audio
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
"...the river of Unmindfulness, whose water no vessel can hold; of this they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each one as he drank forgot all things." - Plato
(***1/2) This was not my favorite Murakami, but it was still good, solid (OK, maybe no Murakami novel should be described as anything close to solid) second-shelf Murakami. It felt like a mystical combination of Descartes + Proust. His themes of love, memory, forgetting, the past, reality, etc., were all better developed in some of his other novels ('Kafka on the Shore', 'Wind-Up Bird Chronicle', etc).
Still, there was something haunting and beautiful about the novel. For me, it was a story about the seductive and supernatural/surreal qualities of the past. It is, at heart, a dark love story where a man essentially becomes the lover to (and haunted by) the memory of his childhood sweetheart.
This was unavailable in audio for many years. I am happy to see they've finally released it. I've read four Murakami novels and most of the short story collections. I don't think this book is as popular as 'Wind up Bird' and some of the others, but in my own opinion this is his best work. Wind Up Bird and Kafka are paced very slow with chapters and chapters of stuff that is intereting to read, but overall does not contribute to the story. This book is slim, to the point. Wistful romance of the only-child. It is very haunting without trying too hard. I've read the other Murakami novels once, but this book I've read at least five times. I am surprised it is not as popular as his other books. If you already like Murakami, I think you will like this. If you're new to Murakami, I can't think of a better novel to start with.
Like "Sputnik Sweetheart", among Murakami's books, this is a "lighter" but very good one, I think. To explain what I mean by "lighter" without mentioning the plot, a metaphor that Murakami used in one of his interviews may help (this was an interview for a Japanese literary journal in 2004; I am translating/para-phrasing - the original was longer):
"Human existence takes place in a "two-story house" (metaphorically, obviously) : the first floor is where people talk to each other; the second floor is where each individual does her/his own things, like reading books or listening to music; then there is the basement where people occasionally visit to reflect or look at things that lay there that are forgotten in daily life; then, below the basement, there is the second basement that most people don't get to visit. There is darkness in the second basement; people see the connections to their past and their souls. The entrance to the second basement is not obvious. You may not come back from there…"
Using this metaphor, the story in "South of the Border, West of the Sun" takes place mostly on the first and second floors and occasionally peeks at the basement. It does not get down to the second basement, I thought. In contrast, "Kafka on the shore" and "The wind-up bird chronicle" definitely spend some time in the second basement. But I don't mind Murakami's stories that take place mostly on the first and second floors, probably because I don't necessarily want to visit the basement or the second basement that often. It's just that it's good to know that Murakami can take me there. Unlike many of Murakami's stories, this book does not contain many metaphors, but I liked it.
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