Book Review: “South of the Border, West of the Sun” Murakami

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular and best known Japanese contemporary authors. His books are best sellers in Japan and are regularly translated and sold around the world. He was born in Kyoto and now lives in Tokyo.

His short novel, “South of the Border, West of the Sun” is the story of the love life of Hajime, an average man born in 1951 in Tokyo. He grew up in nearby Kobe and his mother is from Osaka. The novel traces his life from grade school and his first love when he was 12, to middle age and his marriage and children, and the affairs in between. The narrator owns two jazz bars, like Murakami himself did, and is wrestling with his emotions when meeting his first girlfriend years later, when he is happily married, a successful career, and two healthy daughters. Does he throw all that away, divorce, to be with his old flame? I’ll let you read the book to find out what happens.

The title refers the song, “South of the Border” made famous by Frank Sinatra, and “West of the Sun” refers to Siberian farmers go stir crazy and start walking west on the steppe, and keep walking until they die of thirst and/or exhaustion.

It is a good story and hard to put down. Murakami has a very negative and fatalistic view of life in this book, and other short stories I have read by him. I also didn’t like how secretive the ex-girlfriend was and I don’t think anyone involved with her would tolerate not knowing if she was married and what she did for a living. It does give an accurate picture of life in Japan and after living here a month, I can relate to more of the references in the book. His latest book,Tsukuru Tazaki was a best seller in Japan and is now out in English and he talks about the book in this article in The Guardian.

I always read the local authors in the places I live and will read more of his work. I want to read some of his non fiction works about the sarin gas attacks. It gives me a better understanding of the culture of Japan.

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