South of the Border, West of the Sun
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679767398, March 2000, 224pp.)
The Short of It:
Success and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.
The Rest of It:
Okay, guys. My love for Murakami is approaching full-on creep level. If I could shrink him down and put him in my pocket, I’d carry him around all day long. Weird, huh?
I saved this book for a long time because it was the last translated novel that I had not read but when my father passed away and I was unable to pull myself out of bed, I reached for it and Murakami’s writing did what I expected it to. It soothed, refreshed, made me ponder life in a big way, and all of a sudden all these feelings were rushing through me again.
This is probably one of my favorite novels, ever. It’s right up there with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s a plain, simple story about a middle-aged man by the name of Hajime. He has a loving wife, and two beautiful daughters. He owns a couple of very successful Jazz clubs and enjoys the life he’s earned. But deep down, there’s something missing.
Not fully understanding this sense of longing, he’s reminded of a girl he knew in childhood by the name of Shimamoto. She was his everything but that was a long time ago. Is it possible that she even remembers him?
Memory plays a big role in this story and it’s beautifully handled. Murakami paints vivid, broad strokes when it comes to Shimamoto so it’s easy to see why Hajime is so taken with her. In childhood she’s this beautiful, delicate untouchable thing but when she walks into his club one rainy evening, Hajime begins to doubt his own existence and is no longer sure what happiness is.
This novel is full of romantic interludes but I hesitate to call it a romance because it’s much deeper than your typical romance novel. If you are familiar with Murakami’s writing at all, you know that his books can walk the surreal line. Some of his books are way out there, like Kafka and Wind-up but others are more subtle and this one is definitely one of the quiet ones but oh, how I loved it. That last page! That last line. Sigh.
If I want to try Murakami, which book should I read first?
Everyone always asks me which book to read first. It’s really hard to say. I read Kafka on the Shore first and it was like an acid trip. At page 50 I was about to give up on it and then something clicked. But that’s me. I like it when an author surprises me. But I think about 75% of you would run screaming from a room if you picked that one up first.
So then, to be on the safe side, I usually suggest After Dark, which dips into the surreal but not overly so but if you like excitement then that one might not work for you. Then, there are his short story collections. Some of you adore short stories and some of you don’t. But, I have to say that South of the Border, West of the Sun is the one I will recommend for first time readers from here on out. It’s beautifully written and well-balanced. Not too much of any one thing which makes it a good read for first-time readers of his work.
Just for Fun
Check out this cafe which became a hangout for Murakami fans. I’d like to live there.
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13 thoughts on “Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun”
Ok. now you have me curious about this one. Somehow I hadn’t heard of this book, but it sounds very appealing to me. I loved Kafka but I want to read a “mellower” Murakami next and this one fits the bill.
I think you’d really like this one.
Yeah, I’m still a little unsure about trying his work but, man, do I love that cover!
This would be a safe book for you to try. He’s really a very interesting writer. His main characters are mostly really normal, everyday types who yearn for more, which often leads them to an alternate universe but not all the time. In theory, sometimes you can read his books and think that not a lot happens when in fact, there is a lot of stuff going on. Some day you will surprise me and give him a read.
Awesome review! Thanks for sharing. Murakami has always been one of my favorites (despite the fact that this was one of my least favorites of his). Either way, thanks for the review! If you’re ever in need of more great book reviews and musings be sure to follow! Thanks!!!
I haven’t read any Murikami because I’m not comfortable with the surreal aspect. This, however, sounds like something I could use to ‘dip my toe’ into Murikami. Thanks for the recommendation!
Yes. This would be an excellent one to try. I also try to tell people to go to a bookstore and read a few pages and see if you can put it down. I literally fall into them and find them hard to put down even though there is often very little action to speak of.
My husband finished After Dark and is now a Murakami fan, to the point where he asked me to put more Murakami books on hold (this is in spite of not liking The Strange Library AT ALL). I put in requests for Kafka and the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I hope they get here soon, because he keeps asking me if I’ve started After Dark yet. Which I have not. I do plan to, though! But in the meantime I want to keep him occupied with more Murakami.
This is very exciting!! I love it when people get excited about Murakami. His writing is rather infectious but sometimes it does take the right book for him to take root.
There are two books of his that have yet to be translated but they are supposed to come out this fall so I will have two more to add to my pile soon.
I love Murakami! Norwegian Wood is next on my list. Last year I read 1Q84 – talk about an acid trip 🙂 Great review!
You are my Murakami expert!
Definitely time for me to pick up more Murakami. I’m just about to the point of saying “no more review books this year” just so I make sure I have time for things like this.