Japanese male author Haruki Murakami’s novels are not for the faint at heart. South of the Border, West from the Sun is not your typical teeny-bopper romance novel. Expect his stories to be gripping, dark and intense, but written with such poetic mastery that one cannot simply put the book down that easily. Before you dive into this book, I dare say brace yourself.
Summary (no spoilers, don’t worry)
The story begins with Hajime (guy) and Shimamoto’s (girl) elementary school days as childhood sweethearts. But they soon part ways and Hajime drudges through life trying to make something of himself, as men do. But he never forgets Shimamoto, the one that got away.
The ending that Murakami wrote is, well, not exactly an ending per se. It just stops at that point of the story, and how you take it will depend on your life context and imagination. Piqued your curiosity, haven’t I? You’ll get what I’m saying once you’ve experienced the book for yourself.
The story is narrated from the male’s perspective. As you read deeper into the story, as a female reader, it’s as if one dove head first into the dark and twisted male psychological circuitry. You might say to yourself, ahh, so this is what it’s like to be a dude. Interesting and frustrating at the same time. It could trigger a little femme angst for those with ex issues at times, but that is totally normal and quite cathartic in my opinion.
Male readers will perhaps be able to relate to Hajime’s career-driven nature, very focused, strong, wanting to be the best and provide for his family. Another relatable dimension is Hajime’s choices or thought processes as he journeys through the women in his life — from childhood, into his teens and then marriage. Hajime experiences heartache too, just as much as he becomes quite the handsome and successful heart-breaker.
Verdict: 5 stars
I’ve read quite a few Murakami books. His stories, to be honest, are usually quite depressing. I have yet to read one that isn’t. But you still want to read his literary masterpieces nonetheless, they are brilliant strokes of genius. Relatable, poetic and deep.
South of the Border, West of the Sun is a tale of Hajime, a boy wandering through life, finding his footing as a man who has yet to outgrow his childhood obsession with Shimamoto, a smart, beautiful and strong girl who blossomed in adversity. In a way, it makes you want to ditch your 9-5 job and build your own castles in the air. Also, it will make you face the mirror and stare at the dark side of humanity, fathoming how the light is able to balance it.
“Compared with me, then, she had a terrible load of psychological baggage to struggle with. This baggage, though, had made her a tougher, more self-possessed only child than I could ever have been… No matter what happened, she’d manage a smile. The worse things got, in fact, the broader her smile became. I loved her smile. It soothed me.”
“That’s how I came to open an upmarket jazz bar in the basement of a brand-new building in Aoyama… The bar was more successful than my wildest dreams, and two years later I opened a second one.”
“Me and companies don’t get along. Eight years working convinced me. Eight years down the pan. I suppose that’s what I had to go through though, to get to where I am today. Now I love my job. You know, sometimes my (jazz) bars feel like imaginary places I created in my mind. Castles in the air.”
“Inside that darkness, I saw rain falling on the sea. Rain softly falling on a vast sea, with no one there to see it. The rain strikes the surface of the sea, yet even the fish don’t know it is raining.”
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