My friend Brittany recently found out that I had never read anything by Haruki Murakami. She was shocked. Her immediate response was something along the lines of “And you call yourself a book nerd? YEAH OKAY!” I held my head in shame, because I knew I had one of his books at home. It had been sitting on my shelf for almost two years without being read; I just hadn’t gotten around to cracking it open yet.
When I started debating what book to kick off my 2018 Reading Challenge with, I immediately tore my bookshelves apart, and found my copy of South of the Border, West of the Sun.
This book was incredible. Murakami somehow turns a seemingly mundane life into a fast-paced story, packed full of raw emotion and dreamlike prose.
The story starts when the main character, Hajime, is a child, and follows him through high school, college, and into adulthood, where we find him married with two daughters. The first few chapters focus on the fact that he is an only child. This is really important.
Why? Because his first friend (and crush!), Shimamoto, is also an only child. The pair bond over this when they first meet as children and it brings them closer together. The story is set in Japan, at a time when families with multiple children are the norm, so the fact that both Hajime and Shimamoto are only children is uncommon.
Hajime is a weird kid, and was difficult to relate to. As he gets older, his character only worsens. He turns out to be a horrible human who cheats on girlfriends, as well as his wife, and constantly puts himself before others. I really didn’t care for him at all.
That being said, Murakami gave this main character one redeeming quality: a love of books. Books are a constant throughout Hajime’s life, and the only characteristic I could relate to. One line, in particular, really stood out for me:
“Once I began a book, I couldn’t put it down. It was like an addiction; I read while I ate, on the train, in bed until late at night, in school, where I’d keep the book hidden so I could read during class.”
If I ever met Hajime, we’d definitely bond over our love of books, and probably not much else.
Overall, this novel explores various topics: obsession, love, passion, and the fragile state of human life. South of the Border, West of the Sun illustrates the powerful ripple effects that small actions can have. It shows, multiple times, how a single, seemingly insignificant decision can alter someone’s entire life.
While I may not have liked the main character, I absolutely loved Murakami’s writing style, and am looking forward to reading more of his books soon. If you haven’t picked one up yet, I suggest you also follow Brittany’s advice and get your hands on one as soon as possible.