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


Unbelievable, but I’m being influenced by my eldest son into reading Haruki Murakami. Unbelievable because when he was younger, I had the most problem getting him to read. His two younger brothers devoured books and scored in English, but he just had no interest. My uncle told me he could be a late bloomer. Indeed.

Now, being the kaypoh (busybody) aunt that I am, I felt my nine-year-old nephew, Seb,  is also not reading enough despite the library of books available to him at home,  and his parents are rather sanguine about it. Last week, I passed him a book by Murakami which I felt he would enjoy and whatapp-nagged him into reading it. His father told me he forced Seb to read it and Seb finished it in 20 minutes, crying in the process from the frightening story.  ( Although his father was skeptical if he really read it, I am happy that Seb did as we had a discussion about what was so frightening about the story.

Murakami like long long titles to his story and so do I. My MACW teacher feels I could better title my story, and I agree I could learn this from Murakami. This title is taken from two sources – South of the Order from the song by Nat King Cole, and West of the Sun, from an illness hysteria siberiana allegedly suffered by Siberian farmers who drop dead and dies from being literally sicked of the ritualistic boredom of their farming life. This is according to Shimamoto, the love interest of the protagonist Hajime, as she sprouted the title of the book during an illicit tryst in Hajime’s cottage in Hakone.

The story documents Hajime’s relationship with the opposite sex, starting when he is twelve, that’s when he meets Shimamoto and they develop a bond because both are single children, rare in those days. They separate when both go on to different high schools, where he loses his virginity to Izumi, yet breaks her heart when he starts having sex with her cousin because ‘he knew he had to sleep with her’. As a young adult working as a textbook editor, he meets his wife Yukiko, whom he has two daughters and runs two successful jazz bars financed by his father-in-law. Along the way, he has a few flings while his wife is pregnant because he just wants someone to sleep with. He is satisfied with his life, until he meets Shimamoto again and realises he can’t live without her. But she is an enigma who, irritatingly, drifts in and out of his life, making him and this reader frustrated. I wonder what is it about Shimamoto that can fill the void in Hajime’s life, which he is prepared to give his life up for her- his bars, wife, and children, just to be with her, without knowing anything about her.

Although I like the beautifully lyrical romantic prose, I am incredulous the way Murakami portrays love, and how Hajime treats women so frivolously, so much so that I pity his wife, Yukiko. Although he is remorseful about his treatment of his wife, he’s just a jerk with a warped idea of what love is.

Or perhaps men and women really view love differently. And also perhaps I am beginning to learn a thing or two about Japanese men’s notion of romance.








About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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