Sunday, July 01, 2012

13. South of the Border, West of the Sun

By Haruki Murakami

Used copies by Haruki Murakami are usually hard to find in my limited experience, but Eureka Books in California had quite a few of them. Sadly, most of them were a bit dog-eared, so I only ended up getting South of the Border, West of the Sun, which was published just before The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This is only the third Murakami book I’ve read, so I was surprised at how there was little or no magic realism in this novel, but it has many of other Murakami tropes, such as themes of alienation and loneliness. And fleetingly transcending those afflictions by bonding with others through the love of books and music and cats.

The Complete Review site summarized the novel as a “thoughtful and nostalgic Japanese midlife crisis novel”, which I thought was funny because I was thinking how very emo SotBWotS was while I was reading it.

The male narrator, Hajime (another obvious stand-in for the author), was always a bit of an outsider growing up because of him being an only child (a rare occurrence in post-war Japan).  Now a successful owner of two jazz bars, he becomes involved with his old flame, Shimamoto, an enigmatic, beautiful woman who suddenly reappears in his adult life, at a point where he’s "happily" married with children. There are lots of listening to classic music, especially in the form of LP records and melancholic introspection throughout the course of the novel. There are also hints of surrealism because it’s ambiguous whether Shimamoto is a real person, or a figment of Hajime’s imagination, conjured up to fulfill his deepest yearnings to escape the trappings of his middle-aged life. My bet is that Shimamoto is imaginary because no real woman would want to just lick (and only lick) Hajime all over his body (especially his balls) when they first get it on together!

I’m not really doing the novel much justice with my tongue in cheek rundown.  Even though the story is not exactly my cup of tea, I still enjoyed reading it. Murakami has a introspective writing style that is very compelling, so no surprise he is such a popular writer. SotBWofS is interesting because Murakami gives his own deft, subtle spin on the very clich├ęd story of a soul mate lost and then found again, and how losing a loved one can make you hurt and/or betray yourself and/or others. It’s just not one of my favourite Murakami novels, so I'm not too concerned about spending too much effort writing a review on it.

So instead, here is a thoughtful review from Writer on Writer which sums up more articulately how I felt about the book.

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