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

Some twelve years or so before Haruki Murakami wrote about two “moonstruck lovers” in his magnum opus 1Q84, he gave us the story of Hajime and Shimamoto, two “star-crossed lovers”. As I read South of the Border, West of the Sun I was struck by Murakami’s near obsession with young love lost – and then found again. Sometimes successfully, sometime not. Norwegian Wood mines similar emotions.

As a twelve year old, Hajime befriends a lame classmate, Shimamoto. They become inseparable, best of friends.  Not yet ready for a sexual awakening, they are nevertheless young lovers without knowing it. And there’s a freshness and a pristine quality to love at that age which is never forgotten. Not really. Life doesn’t always cooperate though. Life does not always allow the natural progression of time. Life unfolds, events move ahead and can whither the tender feelings before they can truly blossom into something more. So Shimamoto finds herself in another school, and they drift apart. Hajime is especially confused as to how he can relate to her. What should he do? Inevitably, they drift apart.

The first stage of Hajime’s life comes to a close.

The second phase (Hajime is sixteen) finds him ready for his sexual awakening. Some of his friends are, and he is attracted to a willing partner. Many of his friends are, and he is attracted to women and some are attracted to him. Izumi becomes his lover, but he eventually cheats on her with her cousin. This is the age where some feelings are thoughtless, some  emotions are fragile, and hearts are broken easily, sometimes with regret, but with a sense that they’ll get over it. It’s easy to assume at this age that all feelings are created equal, but they are not.

The third stage of life.

Hajime settles down. Marries. Has two lovely daughters, quits his boring job and becomes a successful bar owner. He’s happy. There is nothing more he needs. Yet slowly an emptiness moves into his heart. An unfulfilled space. That space is named Shimamoto, the childhood friend whom he has never forgotten. The regrets fill that space, for a void in the heart must be filled by something. The what ifs flood in.

Then one day he thinks he sees her and follows her. As she gets into a cab a mysterious man catches hold of his arm and warns him off. He wasn’t absolutely sure it was Shimamoto, but he can’t forget the sighting. It only inflames his longing for that lost love all the more. Then one day he sees a woman sitting in his bar. Could it be? Again, he can’t bring himself to approach her. What if it is not her? What if it is she, but she doesn’t remember him? Finally, she sits down beside him, and indeed it is Shimamoto.

Thus begins the 4th stage of his life. Mid-life crisis Murakami style.

Murakami’s prose style is straight, yet smooth. Like in 1Q84 there are phrases that will be repeated often. Murakami always tells us what he thinks of certain turns of event by this technique, yet he never writes down to the reader, leaving much room for our own mental input, through our own experience. By allowing us this, Murakami gives readers who read for insights into their own experiences a special gift: that of seeing that, no, we are not alone. Others have had these experiences. Others have made these mistakes. Others have had their hearts broken., and yes, regrettably, other have been insensitive in love.

In this novel too (like others) he has provided his own sound track.

THE SOUNDTRACK (Shimamoto’s music):

  • Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. But who does not also know this as the theme to the Lone Ranger?
  • Beethoven’s Sinfonia #6 in F-Major, Op. 68, Pastorale
  • Peer Gynt Suite. Another chestnut
  • Liszt Piano Concertos. I listen to Piano Concerto #1 in E-Flat Major, and #2 in A-Major
  • One album each from Nat “King” Cole (featuring these two songs “Pretend”, and “South of the Border”) and an album of Bing Crosby Christmas songs. Yep. I listened to “White Christmas” in February.
  • Schubert’s Winteriesse

THE SOUNDTRACK (Hajime’s music):

  • “Corcovado”. I l.isten to the whole Getz-Jobim-Gilbert0 collaboration. Rarely have a voice and an instrument come together so perfectly, so magically as did Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz. Getz’ entrance on this tune particularly still send the chills.
  • Duke Ellington, Such Sweet Thunder (January, 1957). “Star-Crossed Lovers”. The horn section on this one is truly elegant, with Johnny Hodges playing his sax. Hodges was a Cambridge, MA boy and spent 40 years with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. You don’t much get a lovelier sound out of the sax than Johnny Hodges brings up.
  • A generic “Embraceable You”. I listen to a vocal (the Billie Holiday Commodore Master Takes) and an instrumental version (Miles Davis, The Masters of Jazz: 33 Best of Miles Davis). You just can’t go wrong with these two. But neither can I resist a Chet Baker vocal version from his album Embraceable You. These three and a handful of others (can’t forget Thelonius Monk) are at the very top of my jazz heap. This tune is a great standard and jazz classic.
  • Handel Organ Concerto
  • Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”. But you know I’m surprised Murakami didn’t reference “Once in a Lifetime”. You know

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,
and you may find yourself in another part of the world
and you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
and you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Remain in Light is a seminal record, a great, great album. Still. Same as it ever was



Filed under Books

2 responses to “South of the Border, West of the Sun ~ Haruki Murakami

  1. This is now on my to-read list. Thank you for another wonderfully insightful and thoughtful review!

  2. Thank you, Kris. I think this one is right in your wheel-house.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s