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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The passage of time is hard to understand. It runs to its own improvised beat, slowing down and speeding up according to the moment – just like a jazz tune. There are times when the world seems to grind to a painful halt, your breath catches in your throat and your heart beats wildly at the sight of a ghost from the past. Then there are times when it seems the years have slipped by like a thief in the night, taking with it your youth, your dreams, your very ‘self’.

“There are some things in this world that can be changed and some that can’t. And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone. Come this far and you can’t go back.”

Yes, the hours of our borrowed life come and go like the tide of a distant shore rising unexpectedly to the cusp of our existence. Sometimes it leaves cryptic messages in its wake, dredged from the murky depths of memory; and at other times it withdraws in cruel silence, erasing the delicate footprints to our past.

Murakami’s novel follows Hajime, a middle-aged man, who recounts the erratic ups and downs of his incomplete life. It documents his loves and losses, his betrayals and sacrifices, his fears and desires. ‘South of the Border, West of the Sun’ is a story full of a very human reminiscence of what might have been, if only things were different. It underlines the instinctive need felt by all people for recognition; a recognition that can only be fulfilled as a reflection of the self in another human being. In Murakami’s novel this translates into a fervent, never-ending search for Hajimes first love Shimamoto, a mysterious girl with a lame leg.

What began as childhood friendship slowly blossomed into something more, but just as Hajime and Shimamoto began to bond, Hajime had to move to another neighbourhood. However this separation does nothing to sever the bond between them and years later when Hajime has settled down with two children, Shimamoto once again enters his life; this time with devastating consequences. Hajime must cope with the burden of choosing between right and wrong and the intoxicating desire that has matured within him for Shimamoto.

Despite the bad decisions that permeate Hajimes life I found myself thinking of him as a character. I neither liked nor disliked him. Instead to me he was just a disembodied voice, narrating the erratic flow of his story – pointing bravely to the rights and terrible wrongs of his personal journey. The women however were very vividly portrayed. I identified with their emotions far more readily than I did with Hajimes’. The fates of the women in particular concerned me, especially the haunting state of Izumi, a girl full of life and laughter, that experiences a most mind-blowing betrayal she certainly does not deserve.

Murakami is a word-artist in this beautiful, realistic yet painful analysis of love and heartache. He paints as honest a portrayal of male mid-life crisis as can possibly be written laden and the consequences of uncontrolled desire. Recommended to men and women alike, especially those who wonder why we sometimes do the things we do, and suffer the fate brought onto us.

I give this 4/5 stars. I’m still thinking Murakami has a better story in him, and I’m hoping to find it.

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