I have been keeping South of the Border, West of the Sun close to my heart because there is only a handful Haruki Murakami’s books (in fact, three more) I haven’t read and I wanted it to be special.
As the first few pages of the book turn, it bears resemblance to the Norwegian Wood storyline, except it is more elegiac, melancholic, more honest and more mature, in my opinion. While many of Murakami’s books took the bizarre and the surreal turn, including Sputnik Sweetheart, this book has none of it at all. No missing cat, no imagery into another world, just plain and simple story about a man in his mid-life who wish for something more in his life.
The story centres around a 37-year-old successful owner of two jazz clubs, married with two kids and seemingly happy in a relationship with his wife, Yukiko. He recalls his growing up years. When he is 12-year-old he fell in love with a girl in his class, Shimamoto. Shimamoto is a precocious and strong-willed girl, inflicted with polio she walks by dragging her left leg which only helps to add on to her character and which leaves a deep impression on Hajime who calls it “a terrible load of psychological baggage … that made her a tougher, more self-possessed only child than I could ever have been.” They spend a brief part of their childhood together listening to old Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby records and revel in a shared understanding of what it’s like to be the only child in their families. They hold hands once and to him the 10 second clasp was a revelation for Hajime that Shimamoto is the one.
“I was always attracted not by some quantifiable, external beauty, but by something deep down, something absolute. I liked that certain undefinable something directed at me by members of the opposite sex. for want of a better word, call it magnetism. Like it or not, it’s a power that ensnares people and reels them in.” – page 37
It is chemistry, Mr Murakami. It is called chemistry.
Time passes and Hajime has to leave for secondary school and move to a different school in a different part of town and the two friends drifted apart. Hajime attend school, university and have many other relationships, some girls have pleased him and one girl he has hurt badly. Through it all, his thoughts often wander back to Shimamoto – wondering what became of her and how much he wanted to see her again. Some days Hajime thought he saw Shimamoto in the street.
Soon Hajime married Yukiko and have two daughters whom he love dearly. Inspite of this he wonder if he could see Shimamoto again.
Hajime of course met Shimamoto again (otherwise the novel wouldn’t have any significance if they don’t!) and find himself propelled into the mysterious realm of her life. Overcome by pity, enchantment and desire, he decides that he must risk everything that he has for the chance to consummate his first love.
She appears out of the blue and then she disappears. Then for months Hajime did not hear from Shimamoto and then she reappears again. This is perhaps the only surreal element in the book. At some point I think Shimamoto may be just a figment of Hajime’s imagination or she is an apparition or a ghost, as it seems to imply that she could leave in the middle of the night without a sound, from a lodge in the middle of the woods. One wonders also about her own private life – what is it that she is running away from? What is it that keeps her from coming to see Hajime? She never divulges these circumstances and we never find out.
If you ever been in love, you will find the missing of someone only makes your heart grow fonder. I always wonder if it is human nature to always crave for the unobtainable, and where the absence of the one thing you wanted most only deepen the insatiable desire to have it? This to me is the central theme of the book. It is about what we do when we lost and found someone we loved, or still love, in a different circumstances in our lives. The cruelty of all is that time waits for no one, not even love. I think it is impossible to fit the past into present, if one decide to he or she will be liable to hurt many people that he or she holds precious in the present moment.
South is a short read and I finish it within a day, putting my July number of books read to a respectable five. Although the novel is short, it leaves a lasting impression on me. At one point in our lives, we do all wonder about the right one we were fated to meet and love but somehow didn’t. Some of us go on living, moving forward. While a few of us live but always looking back with half a heart in the present and the other half somewhere else, always trying to recapture a past that is long gone.
I confess I am one who is always living in the past. Over the years I have learnt to live in the present and if I do remember the past now, it is not because of any particular person but it is because of the youth and the happier times when my heart is not so burdened. Those are the beautiful memories that I or you are entitled to hold on to, but do not forget to create many more beautiful memories now and in the future.
“The void is simply that, a void. I’ve been in that void before and forced myself to adjust. And now, finally, I end up where I began and I’d better get used to it. No one will weave dreams for me – it is my turn to weave dreams for others. That’s what I have to do. Such dreams may have no power, but if my own life is to have any meaning at all, that is what I have to do.” – page 186
Simple, powerful and authentically Haruki Murakami, I recommend it.
Paperback. Publisher: Harvill Press, 1999; Length: 187 pages; Setting: Japan. Source: Own copy. Finished reading on the 31st July 2012.
Recommend that you read Tony’s hilarious review on the same book: Tonys Reading List : it’s girl thing it’s guy thing
I think Hajime is a jerk especially when you think about what he did to Izumi, but he has been honest and I’m reading into his mind, I withheld my judgement and I understand where he is coming from.
I’m reading this for the J-lit 6 challenge and Murakami challenge 2012.