South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

First Japanese Edition  Courtesy of Wikipedia

First Japanese Edition
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Spoilers

When I was first assigned A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami for a World Literature Class, I never knew how much I would enjoy this author’s work. I’ve read several of his works now and each time I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable they are. Murakami has a very bare bones style of writing which is not only very memorable, but also striking in its simplicity. The same can be said of some of his stories. Their plots can be very simple, almost to the point of being somewhat dull, but right when you think you have them figured out he manages to twist the story into something still simple but completely different than with what you started with. This is the case with South of the Border

At it’s base the story is a love story between two childhood friends. The main character, Hajime, is close friends with Shimamoto a girl in his class with a pronounced limp due to polio. Over time Hajime and Shimamoto grow apart and eventually lose contact with one another. The reader than follow Hajime as he lives his life. He goes through several average, rather boring jobs before starting a family, and with his father-in-law’s help, opens two very successful jazz clubs in the upscale Aoyama District of Tokyo.Hajime is relatively happy with his life, but knows that something is definitely missing. At this point Shimamoto returns to his life. She works her mysterious way back into his life. She refuses to talk about herself and only hints at perhaps being rich and/or having a rather shady past. Shimamoto takes a powerful hold on Hajime’s life as he develops a strong obsession with her that causes his home and work life to suffer. Shortly after consummating their relationship she disappears. It is at this point after deep reflection that Hajime realizes that while he is still missing something in his life that to find it is not worth losing what he already has- his family and work.

As I said before I love Murakami’s writing style. I feel that this book is a beautiful example of his style of writing. What I liked most about this story and the writing along with it is how Murakami makes you almost feel as if you are the main character. It is so easy to feel Hajime’s emotions and thoughts as your own. The mistakes he makes we have all made before, even if we won’t admit to them, and his successes can also be felt to be our own. The best aspect of this book was how some of the questions presented are never answered. You never find out Shimamoto’s past and you never find out why she disappears. Hajime, despite his disappointment in never figuring Shimamoto out, learns to accept that he never will. I feel that this was the most realistic element of the book. It is all too common that the questions that we ask in our lives do go unanswered and as we grow into maturity we learn to accept this fact.

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