SOUTH OF THE BORDER, WEST OF THE SUN BY HARUKI MURAKAMI

Fans of Murakami will find much khổng lồ enjoy in South of the Border, West of the Sun, often described as a ‘Japanese Casablanca’. His recurrent themes of nostalgia và melancholy, of feeling isolated and lost, of young love and adult complications that have made Murakami universally popular; and the deceptively simple style that makes him so easy lớn enjoy are again on display here.

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Though he can barely be called middle-aged, Hajime has just survived a crisis in his life và has paused lớn look back and reflect on the events that led him here.

An only child, he recalls a childhood where he felt profoundly different to other children & had only one friend; a girl called Shimamoto. Also an only child, Shimamoto shares his sense of separation, perhaps even more profoundly since, as a result of polio, she walks dragging her leg và cannot participate in many things children do. Hajime remembers his time spent with Shimamoto, listening khổng lồ their parent’s records, as the happiest in his life. But on the cusp of puberty, when otherwise their friendship may have become something more, Hajime changes schools and he inevitably loses contact with Shimamoto.

As a teenager, Hajime remains a loner but no longer feels so unlike others. He has a girlfriend, Izumi, with whom he yearns for a physical relationship, though probably only for his own selfish needs. But Izumi is an anxious girl who worries about their future relationship since Hajime is intent on escaping their sleepy suburb for a big thành phố university. So Izumi resists Hajime’s advances only to chiến bại him to lớn her cousin with whom Hajime has a passionate affair. The betrayal destroys Izumi & many years later Hajime is still haunted and disturbed by his capacity for self-centeredness and cruelty.

Hajime regards his 20’s as a wasted decade. After graduating from University he works a meaningless, boring job & the years go by in a flash. However, one mysterious sự kiện from these years has never left him.

One day he is walking through the busy city streets when he thinks he spots Shimamoto. The woman is beautiful, well-dressed and has Shimamoto’s distinctive walk. He follows her for a while, unsure how to lớn approach her, unsure why he is hesitating. The woman ducks into a café & Hajime hovers around before following her in. Inside she makes a điện thoại tư vấn from a pay phone, orders a drink & sits down not touching her drink. Then, abruptly, she leaves. Hajime gets up khổng lồ resume following her when he is strong-armed aside by a large man, who hands him an envelope with a wad of cash in it và tells him lớn let it go.

He’s never been able khổng lồ explain this event and the envelope with its cash still sits in his office drawer.

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A few years later he meets Yukiko và in three months they are engaged. Her father runs a successful construction company and offers Hajime a lease to kết thúc his unfulfilling career & pursue his dream of running a jazz bar (not unlike Murakami himself, who ran a Jazz bar with his wife in Tokyo in the 70’s). Today, Hajime owns two bars and has two daughters. He is happy with his life, if by that he means he is in a comfortable và stable routine; but without passion, excitement or any sense of profound connection or meaning.

It is at this point in his life that Shimamoto saunters into the bar he named Robin’s Nest one rainy night. She’s beautiful and full of mystery and his crisis can unfold.

Haruki Murakami is one of the world’s most popular literary authors and those who are familiar and enjoy his work will find the elements they love in South of the Border, West of the Sun which, first published in Japanese in 1992, probably represents an early-career novel. Its brevity and relative lack of depth may mean it won’t rank among the best or most popular Murakami, but it deserves consideration on its own merits.

The story of young love; the lasting effects of betrayal, the mystery & uncertainty in the mind of the reader, in a concise work; reminded me of Julian Barnes Booker-Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending. But with the story of a man who runs a successful bar, whose world is turned upside down by the return of a mysterious beauty from his past and who considers risking everything khổng lồ be with her; the obvious comparison would be lớn Casablanca. Many reviewers have even called this story a ‘Japanese Casablanca’, although, as with many Murakami stories, while it may be set in japan with Japanese characters, the cultural elements are understated & his stories remain notable for their universality in setting, theme and character.

His style has been described as nostalgic or ‘sophmoric’ and this, albeit short, novel is in keeping with this pattern. Other components of his method will also be unmistakable to fans. A main character who is somewhat solitary, unfulfilled and uncertain as khổng lồ how lớn amend that; who seems to vày rather well despite the aimlessness of his life; the lack of purpose supporting both the melancholy and fatalistic aspects. Lovers who find connection in a mutual enjoyment of reading & music. The use of music is particularly noticeable; there is hardly a time where two characters meet without Hajime telling us what song was playing in the background lớn set the mood. The meaning behind the songs also inform the novels messages & themes.

The ‘South of the Border’ of the title refers khổng lồ the popular 1939 tuy nhiên recorded for a film of the same name. As children Hajime và Shimamoto used to lớn listen to lớn a Nat King Cole recording of it (although in reality, Cole never recorded the song). Not knowing it refers khổng lồ a trip khổng lồ Mexico, Shimamoto used to wonder about what magical place lay south of the border. “Something beautiful, big & soft”. The ‘West of the Sun’ refers to a khung of hysteria Shimamoto says afflicts people living in Siberia, possibly similar lớn Piblokto, where for no reason they abandon their life in difficult conditions and wander westward, usually dying of exposure.

Similarly, the return of Shimamoto & the possibility of achieving a fulfilling happiness is tempting Hajime khổng lồ abandon his life, but perhaps he has not yet appreciated that what he may find is not a beautiful land south of the border, but his fate west of the sun.

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