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



Love is multi-dimensional; in the sense that it is a congregation of feelings, both good and bad. They all build up to something familiar, like an old pair of socks, and settles down snugly within us, without us much realising. The feeling of loss is also an indication of that love, and the only tragedy is not feeling anything at all. 

Murakami's beautiful South of the Border, West of the Sun is a journey of the heart. Nothing really is straight-cut when it comes to Murakami, but this is an out-and-out love story, as predictable as it can be in terms of the practical outcomes, while the complex turns of the heart are what makes this story so unique. Little Hajime is a single-child, who learns to live in his own quiet world, and befriends Shimamoto, another lone child at school. When both go their own ways as teenagers, Hajime still remembers her fondly, and moves on with his life , not realising how stuck he is. He is happily married with two daughters, with the thoughts of Shimamoto deeply rooted in his heart. The dam bursts when years later, Shimamoto reappears, shrouded in mystery and Hajime's world is turned upside down. 

The story does not dwell too much on the plot, instead it races through the tumultous flow of thoughts in Hajime's head. The trademark of Murakami works wonders with this kind of a story, as the extreme passions of the heart blurs the outlines of reality, something that he is very adept at describing. As always, there is little evidence to prove if anything outwardly unnatural had happened at all, but then there isn't proof to justify otherwise either. It is up to the reader to decide for themselves. While that does seem discomfitting to begin with, but a few Murakamis down the line, I have learnt to enjoy the independence of my own thoughts. 

Hajime being the main protagonist, has plenty of coverage and he seems a decent enough fellow, with the socially acceptable amount of flaws. Shimamoto, by her mere absence, is an overbearing character, and at times, not very likeable. This is a first person narrative, and the obsession Hajime nurtured for Shimamoto seemed so doomed, that I for one, often felt myself giving over to feeling frustrated more often than not. Yukiko, Hajime's wife, is the next strong character, and one drawn out most beautifully. There is very little data on her and I think the readers would get to know more about her in two sentences towards the very end of the book than through the  rest. She is in a convenient position in terms of moral high ground, but there seems nothing judgemental or prudish about her. In fact, her maturity of thoughts is Hajime's saviour in life. All other characters are fleeting at best, and are well employed to bring out the diversity of hearts in the world of love and loss. Reading this story is akin to making an odd friend, and beginning to care for him. 

The flow of words, as usual, is remarkable, which only makes me wish I knew Japanese, so I could derive greater pleasure from reading this book. Nevertheless, Philip Gabriel's translation puts things as simply as flowing water. That, probably, is the biggest turn on in this book, or for any Murakami for that matter. The uniqueness of the ideas would have lost all attraction, had it not been for the casualness yet primness of the language. 

South of the Border, West of the Sun is a bit like an Indie flick in some ways (it reminded me loosely of 500 Days of Summer), though a lot more thorough and heart-felt (an advantage books share over movies). And unlike the more abstruse works like Kafka on the Shore, this one appeals to the senses in a more personal, intimate way.          

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