Book Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

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I felt I knew more about her than ever before, and she must have felt the same. What we needed were not words and promises but the steady accumulation of small realities.

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

Despite my ambitious reading goals for 2016, I spent the first week of the year struggling through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Although it came highly recommended, I was simply too tired from work or busy sorting out appointments to really focus on the book. Maybe I’ve exhausted my own affinity for sci fi.

The other day, I stopped by my local public library and picked up this book. I was aimlessly looking through the shelves when suddenly it struck me that I hadn’t read any Murakami in over a year, since Sputnik Sweetheart. This was the only one I hadn’t read that the library had available, and I distinctly remembered a friend saying that this was his favourite Murakami book. And despite struggling through Ready Player One, I plowed through this in roughly a day and a half.

For me, reading Murakami is visiting an old friend. A friend who loves cats, has an affinity for jazz records, and although a lonely man is somehow an irresistible womanizer all the same. The protagonist of South of the Border, West of the Sun, Hajime, is your typical Murakami protagonist, although he has his moments of strange humor (although some I think were lost in translation). Shimamoto, the main love interest, is like most Murakami love interests: mysterious, beautiful, flawed, and with a deep, unexplainable sadness at her core.

Out of all the Murakami I’ve read, I would say that this book is closest to Sputnik Sweetheart and Norwegian Wood. Although a fan of Murakami, I tend to prefer his straightforward tales of nostalgic, star-crossed romance rather than the surrealist elements of works like Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This is a quiet, short read that still makes you reflect on yourself and your own relationships. As a young adult who’s only recently started on her post-university life, Hajime and Shimamoto’s boredom and melancholy was something I identified with more than I cared to admit.

YES OR NO?: YES. I would never not recommend Murakami to someone. I also think this book would be an ideal way to introduce someone  to Murakami’s body of work, since it is a shorter read that still embodies his style and themes.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

  1. This is great. All the reviews you’ve posted of Murakami are the ones I’ve yet to get to, so it’s sort of a sneak peek for me. (Although I am definitely more of a fan of his surrealist stuff – Wind-up Bird is easily my favourite.)

    1. That’s great, always happy to meet another Murakami fan! I read Wind-up Bird last year and it thoroughly confused me. I watched an interview of Murakami today where he said that he doesn’t plan out stories and that he honestly doesn’t know what some of the symbols mean, so I’ve learned to accept some of the surrealism without necessarily deciphering all of it. Thank you for the comment!

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