South of the Border, West of the Sun

Review :

They say that Murakami is one of those authors you either love or hate. I can actually understand how his style of writing might not be for everyone's taste, but I happen to love him. His unique writing style always had a sort of hypnotic power over me. I feel enchanted when I read his novels, almost like I'm entering some magical world. Moreover, at times it is almost like I'm in the book myself, a silent observer, but nevertheless, a person very much present. Do you know that feeling you feel a part of a book right from the start You only started reading it but you already feel immersed in it When the first sentences draw you in completely You've just started to read it, but you know you're going to love it. I don't know exactly how Murakami does it, but I could make a guess. It is the ease with which he creates his characters, revealing their inner world before our eyes in ever more detail with each page we turn. He is so brilliant at capturing the mood of his protagonists that we can't help feeling for them and feeling with them. At times it might even seem like we know his characters better than ourselves.


Both his writing style and the general mood of his books have something very unpretentious about them. Murakami writes simply but beautifully; it makes me wonder how he sounds in original (I doubt I'll ever become fluent in Japanese, so I will have to keep relying on translations). This simplicity and minimalism in writing works very well in this novel, adding another layer of sophistication to it. That is the world I would be tempted to use if I had to describe his books in one word: sophistication. His writing, for most part, doesn't seem lyrical to me, yet there are always those special moments when his writing style becomes amazingly graceful and poetical. He certainly has his signature style. Murakami uses metaphors and symbols with much ease, creating with them a thing of delicate beauty.


Murkami's exploration of theme of human loneliness can bring Kafka to our minds. Indeed, I can see many similarities between them, not just in the choice of themes explored but in the writing style as well. Kafka had this way of making surrealistic/fantastical elements in his work seem perfectly plausible. Murkami uses them in a slightly different way, he is more ambiguous, and when it comes to certain events, you're never quite sure whether the event being described is real or imagined. Both writers know how to employ fantastical/surreal to their advantage. Somehow those elements are employed so skilfully by these two writers, that they manage not only to deepen their descriptions of human loneliness and isolation, but give them additional meanings. Murakami's works feel a bit dreamier than Kafka's and they do have different styles but there are similarities between them, no doubt about that.


I was amazed at how easy I found it to sympathize with and feel for the protagonist of South of The Border, West Of The Sun. The protagonist of this novel, Hajimi, is not by any means a perfect man. It seems that he has a perfect life, though. Married with two children and a successful job- what man could want more Yet, underneath it all, Hajimi is somewhat unhappy and obsessed with his past. He owns jazz clubs, he is married to a woman who adores him, his marriage is by no means build on false pretences- and yet he is so utterly dissatisfied with something, it is like there is something deep inside of him, a worm of doubt eating up his life. If there was something in Hajimi's life that he hated, he could understand it, but there is mystery in his unhappiness, it runs deep. He is a happy man in many ways and he doesn't hide it, he feels grateful for it even, but there is always a but. both in life and in literature.

Some might see Hajimi as an irresponsible man undergoing a mid-life crisis, but I don't think is it so simple. This novel is much too complex for something like that. If feels more like a psychological study of character than just a story about some guy discontent with his life. The richness of this book is composed of many layers. One of them can certainly be found in its philosophical exploration of the human condition. What does it mean to be human Why do we always want more The existentialism is subtly played out in this one, much like music in a jazz bar, it echoes through the room until it becomes a part of you and nests itself somewhere deep in your heart. You either hate it or love it. That's the way with Murakami. People tend to either be utterly moved by his writing or feel it does nothing for them. Obviously, I fall into the first category. I agonized for and with the protagonist, perhaps even more that he did himself.


What (or whom) is Hajimi looking for, this man who seemingly has it all Perhaps it all comes down to his past and a spirit of lost love (the most potent of spirits, right). Hajimi grow up as a single child in a time when it wasn't usual for parents to have only one child. This turned him into an oddity of some kind, perhaps something that we would referred to (In Victorian, colonial and postcolonial literature) as 'an other'. However, he manages to find another 'other'- Shimamoto, a girl who is, like himself, a single child. Together these two finally feel complete, but unfortunately they lose touch when they families move away. This childhood friendship/ love continues to haunt our protagonist. Suddenly, Shimamoto reappears and Hajimi, now a married man, is captured under the spell of her mystery. As the years pass, Hajimi becomes more and more obsessed with Shimamoto.


Why is this old love so important to Hajimi Because it is what itching fingers are to a painter. Many of my illustrating friends told me they feel it, a need to draw that is almost physical, you can actually feel your fingers itching, longing for a pencil even if you don't have a clear picture of what you would like to create in your head. For some people love might be like that. Like that physical and spiritual need for creation that artists feel. A yearning for the other than goes deeper that most romantic relationships. It is not so much sharing and friendship, as a creation of something new. Love, for some, might be that great mystery, that only thing that can give us fulfilment. Hajimi certainly doesn't idolize Shimamoto, he doesn't sing praises to her.He is just utterly and completely fascinated and drawn to her. It seems like something that is genuinely stronger than both of them. Can this connection between them be read as a metaphor for something else Certainly it can, as a metaphor for great many things, but I suppose it is fair to say that it can also be an exploration of the theme of love itself. The mysterious connection between a man and a woman.


That would be the premise of this story. To discover what happens next, you'll have to read the novel. When you do that, you can draw your conclusions about the characters, the story and the message of this book. For me, one of the best things about this novel is that can be read in so many ways. An existentialist might say that Shimamoto is just a symbol of the absurdity of this world, those more inclined to pessimism might add that Shimamoto represent the unattainable for happiness can't be achieved. Romantics might see it as a simple love story. A bitter cynic might say that Hajimi is a loser and that the novel is a quasi-intellectual masturbation (and a cynic would be wrong because bitterness is a bad method to read anything). A feminist might call Hajimi a pig (for mistreating the woman who not only worships him but is also the mother of his children). Psychologist might find reasons for Hajimi's behaviour in his upbringing. One possible psychological examination of Shimamoto and Hajimi relationship could be those of 'unrelated siblings', drawing parallel with Heathcliff and Catharine (it is a natural tendency in humans not to marry childhood friends because on unconscious levels we perceive them as siblings- because we grew up together). As I said, there many possible readings of this one. It is up to us to find a reading that we like best.


What I find so ingenious about this novel is the way it explores numerous question, from why our past holds such a power over us to why is every human being sentenced to an isolation of some kind This book raises questions, rather than answers them, but it does it so brilliantly, that you feel like the answer must be attainable. I loved the honesty of this book, the unpretentiousness of it. At times, I had a feeling that Murakami was telling me: "I don't know the meaning of life and I can't tell it to you.", but in some instances I had a feeling I was seeing it with my eyes, in the story (in art) itself and that it is too complex a thing to put into worlds in a straightforward way. That is why we have art. That is why we have literature. To cross the bridges of everyday and banal worries to get to our cores, and examine them- as painful as it can be at times.


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