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

As those of you who join me regularly know, Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite authors and I am slowly making my way through all of his books. My latest read was South of the Border, West of the Sun

Genre: Fiction, Japanese
Publisher: Vintage
Year: 1992
Rating: 3.5/5

Growing up in the suburbs in post-war Japan, it seemed to Hajime that everyone but him had brothers and sisters. His sole companion was Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father's record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch. Now Hajime is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his loving wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears. She is beautiful, intense, enveloped in mystery. Hajime is catapulted into the past, putting at risk all he has in the present. 

This was a short, yet engaging novel. In true Murakami style, the story and characters in this novel are used to ponder life's bigger questions.  Such as, how certain is memory? Is reality just something we construct in our minds? Are facts only facts because we label them as such? How can our actions, whether deliberate or accidental, hurt those around us in ways which are irreversible? Murakami loves to give his readers something to think about. 

All of this is achieved through the character Hajime. Hajime seems to be going through some sort of midlife crisis. He has a wife who he loves, two beautiful daughters and a great job running a bar in a trendy suburb of Tokyo, yet he spends most of his time with his head in the past.

He analyses his past relationships, starting with his first true love, Shimamoto. He questions what could have been if he did not move away. He then goes on to think about his first steady girlfriend in high school, Izumi and how his betrayal of her hurt her deeply, having long reaching consequences on her life that he could not have forseen. 

Eventually, Shimamoto reappears back into Hajime's life. Shimamoto haunts Hajime with 'what if's' until he reaches breaking point, forcing him to make a decision between his wife and family or his past.

I must say that I found Hajime hard to sympathise with. I mean, he treats women like dirt all because he can't make up his mind what he wants from life. He is so focused on a childhood romance that did not eventuate, that he can not function normally in relationships. That's pretty messed up.  Which, I guess, is the point. Hajime is a character with issues but as a reader, I couldn't really 'feel' for him.

That said, I still enjoyed this book. It gave good insight into a how a person can struggle within themselves. I think Hajime knew he was a pretty poor excuse for a human being, yet his obsession with Shimamoto clouded all his decisions. This is more of a character study rather than a face-paced novel with a lots of  plot.

This novel does not contain the surrealist elements that we have come to expect from Murakami, it's focus is on human fault and introspection. Regardless, it did not disappoint. A must read for any Murakami fan.
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