South of the Border, West of the Sun

Haruki Murakami

translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
Harvill Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005
Born in Japan in 1951, Hajime feels out of place growing up as an only child, until he makes friends with Shinamoto, who is also an only child and has a limp. A soul-mate, she shares with him a passion for music and sparks his first tentative sexuality. They go to different schools, however, and lose touch. In high school Hajime develops a more normal relationship with Izumi, but one that is doomed by the naked lust that drives him and her cousin to couple — and by his urge to get out of their "sleepy town" and go to university in Tokyo.

After aimless college years, Hajime finds his feet. He marries well and with help from his father-in-law sets up two jazz bars in Tokyo, which he manages with aplomb. At thirty-seven he is happily settled with Yukiko and their two daughters... Until Shinamoto reenters his life. She appears and disappears unpredictably, but eventually Hajime will have to make a choice between his past and his present.

The plot of South of the Border, West of the Sun is not particularly original or substantial, but it serves as a skeleton for an exploration of sex, love and obsession. Hajime's personal story, elements of which are apparently autobiographical, is a moving tale of teenage romance and angst and of mid-life crisis and nostalgia. There are also some more general ruminations; though slender, these manage to avoid glibness.

It's a simple but powerful little novel — this is the first Murakami book I have read, but I'll be reading more.

September 2005

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- Haruki Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
- more Japanese literature
- books published by Harvill Press
%T South of the Border, West of the Sun
%A Murakami, Haruki
%M Japanese
%F Gabriel, Philip
%I Harvill Press
%D 1999
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1860465943
%P 187pp