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South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun

4.3 38
by Haruki Murakami

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In South of the Border, West of the Sun, the simple arc of a man's life—with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment—becomes the exquisite literary terrain of Haruki Murakami's most haunting work.

Born in 1951 in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Hajime—beginning in Japanese—has arrived at middle age wanting for almost


In South of the Border, West of the Sun, the simple arc of a man's life—with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment—becomes the exquisite literary terrain of Haruki Murakami's most haunting work.

Born in 1951 in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Hajime—beginning in Japanese—has arrived at middle age wanting for almost nothing. The postwar years have brought him a fine marriage, two daughters, and an enviable career as the proprietor of two jazz clubs. Yet a nagging sense of inauthenticity about his success threatens Hajime's happiness. And a boyhood memory of a wise, lonely girl named Shimamoto clouds his heart.

When Shimamoto shows up one rainy night, now a breathtaking beauty with a secret from which she is unable to escape, the fault lines of doubt in Hajime's quotidian existence begin to give way. And the details of stolen moments past and present—a Nat King Cole melody, a face pressed against a window, a handful of ashes drifting downriver to the sea—threaten to undo him completely. Rich, mysterious, quietly dazzling, South of the Border, West of the Sun is Haruki Murakami's wisest and most compelling fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Joan Mellen
Hauntingly brilliant...A mesmerizing new example of Murakami's deeply original fiction.
Baltimore Sun
Melvin Jules Bukiet
Lovely, deceptively simple...A novel of existential romance.
San Francisco Chronicle
Alexandra Lange
In South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami applies his patented Japanese magic realism -- minimalist, smooth, and transcendently odd -- to a charming tale of childhood love lost....As in much of Murakami's work, the mystical denouement leaves you with more mood than satisfaction.
New York Magazine
Ray Sawhill
Haruki Murakami's new novel, South of the Border, West of the Sun, has little of the deadpan daring of his 1989 A Wild Sheep Chase, or of such later works as Dance Dance Dance (1994) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997). South of the Border is narrated by a successful though vaguely unhappy jazz bar owner named Hajime. Once, as a child, he'd had a perfect friendship, with a crippled girl named Shimamoto. But he moved away, and he has gone on to break some hearts, marry, prosper and lose his ideals. Then, as in a scene from a movie (Murakami leans heavily on Casablanca throughout), Shimamoto walks into one of Hajime's clubs, flourishes a cigarette and asks for a light. Hajime starts to feel whole again -- yet not quite. The passing of time and the shame of betrayal keep getting in the way. And anyway, is this new, grown-up Shimamoto real or a phantom summoned up by need and imagination? It's Brief Encounter for the New Age.

American writing schools may overdo the injunction always to show and never to tell -- our young writers seem to know how to do little but show us things -- but it's advice that Murakami could have used. An amazing amount of this book is devoted to Hajime's discussions of what Shimamoto means to him, what his wife means to him, what his predicament means to him. It's possible that Murakami is playing changes on a Japanese genre I'm unfamiliar with, or that he's needling Hajime's narcissism in ways too Japanese for me to perceive. And he does have a wonderful way of making the novel's action seem to play out against a background of serenely classical Japanese art. But he also seems determined to baby his imagination. For example, Hajime tells us of his delight in his rapport with Shimamoto. Yet here's a typical exchange:

"You mean we're lovers?"

"You think we're not?"

I catch the echoes of '40s weepies. It's what those echoes ought to be bouncing off that's missing.

If you're unfamiliar with Murakami's work and want to give it a try, start with A Wild Sheep Chase. A melancholy yet irreverent phantasmagoria about an ad guy, a girl with beautiful ears, a mysterious sheep and Japanese guilt over World War II, it suggests a 21st century cross between Absalom, Absalom! and Mothra, and it's still fresh and moving. My guess is that in this zingless new novel, the writer thinks he's using Hajime's tale to wrestle with what Thomas McGuane once called "the sadness-with-no-name," a forlornness many baby boomers fall prey to and can't shake off.

But his approach -- hunting endlessly for the emotion's metaphysical and historical meanings -- pays off only in Rolling Stone magazine-style banalities. Recalling the end of his '60s college days, Hajime tells us, "Like a drooping flag on a windless day, the gigantic shock waves that had convulsed society for a time were swallowed up by a colorless, mundane workaday world." While the significance of it all piles up and the action drifts, the annoyed reader may start to wonder: Does Murakami really think that no one before his generation ever got scared of middle age, asked what life is all about and did a little screwing around in search of an answer? -- Salon

Richard Bernstein
An absorbing psychological mystery...A probing meditation on human fragility [and] the grip of obsession.
New York Times
Ariel Swartley
His most deeply moving novel.
Boston Globe
Library Journal
Romance, accusingly bittersweet but still redemptive, is the theme of this novel written by award-winning novelist Murakami, one of Japan's most popular authors. Two only children who were schoolmates and best friends meet again after a 25-year separation. Hajime is now married, the father of two little girls and a successful owner of two jazz clubs. Shimamoto has also changed; she has become a very beautiful woman. She is always immaculately and expensively dressed, but she will not talk about her life or anything that has happened to her. Nevertheless, Hajime believes that he loves her more than life itself; he is convinced that he could leave his family and his business to be with her. After they spend a night together, a night filled with raw passion, she vanishes. Hajime is distraught. After much soul searching, he begins to put his life back together and discovers that he has become a stronger man, one who realizes that looking back is often necessary in order to move forward. -- Janis Williams, Shaker Heights Public Library, Ohio
Julie Shiroishi
[Murakami] is such a master of the quirky storyline and so successfully negotiates the fine line between the exquisitely sentimental and the maudlin that reading him is...a bittersweet pleasure.
A. Magazine
Ariel Swartley
His most deeply moving novel.
Boston Globe
Mary Hawthorne
A wise and beautiful book full of hidden truths...That he manages, in his sexual explicitness, to make intimacy real -- appealing and unembarassing, innocent even -- stands him in contrast to the work of many American writers.
The New York Times Book Review
Margot Mifflin
...[T]ame...but has its own quiet intensity...
Entertainment Weekly
Island Magazine
Haruk Murakami made a novelist's name for himself with a big, complex book, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In his new South of the Border, West of the Sunhe proves he can handle a more tightly focused, intimate tale with equal skill. The book's narrator-hero, Hajime, is an only child - something of an anomaly in the world of suburban Japan of the 1960s - so it's natural that his first real relationship is with Shimamoto, a beautiful but slightly crippled girl who also has no siblings. They drift apart, and Hajime eventually marries and becomes the proprietor of two small, successful nightclubs. Then Shimamoto reappears as a mysterious femme fatale and turns his life upside down. It's a remarkable story by any standard, and all the more so in Philip Gabriel's translation, which manages to express Murakami's very Japanese society in highly colloquial American language.
Kirkus Reviews
This latest from the internationally celebrated Japanese author of A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle eschews Murakami's trademark comic extravagance, offering instead a muted portrayal of dream-driven midlife crisis. Narrator Hajime, an only child (a condition that obsesses him) whose very conventional upbringing includes a sexless (if emotionally intense) friendship with a crippled girl named Shimamoto, discovers in his mid-30s that his settled bourgeois existence masks an urgent desire to resume and consummate the relationship that dominated his youth. Having endured a frustrating teenage romance (which was ended by his own unfaithfulness) and an unrewarding job as a textbook editor, Hajime later married happily, fathered children, and-thanks to his wealthy father-in-law-became the proprietor of two popular "jazz bars." One night Shimamoto walks into Hajime's popular Robin's Nest, they talk for hours, and the fantasies of adventurous lives and exotic faraway places that had absorbed their earlier years gradually resurface. Persuading himself that "I was living someone else's life, not my own," Hajime surrenders to Shimamoto's spell, accompanying her on an enigmatic "pilgrimage," then tumbling into an affair terminated only when she inexplicably departs again, abandoning Hajime to the workaday world and domestic routine he had imagined escaping. In a slowly moving narrative made even more attenuated by shapeless lengthy conversations, Murakami presents Hajime as a hopeful dreamer chastened, though not changed, by his realization that "I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover." It seems scant material for a novel, though there are fine moments,including a hilarious anecdotal account of adolescent sexual panic and an eerie climactic encounter with Izumi, the girl Hajime had wronged many years earlier. Brief Encounter meets Blue Velvet? Or a book written to exorcize personal demons? Whichever, it's only middling Murakami-what we'll have to make do with until the next wild sheep or wind-up bird comes along.

From the Publisher
“A wise and beautiful book.” –The New York Times Book Review

“A probing meditation on human fragility, the grip of obsession, and the impenetrable, erotically charged enigma that is the other.” –The New York Times

“Brilliant. . . . A mesmerizing new example of Murakami’s deeply original fiction.” –The Baltimore Sun

“Lovely, deceptively simple. . . . A novel of existential romance.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“His most deeply moving novel.” –The Boston Globe

“Mesmerizing. . . . This is a harrowing, a disturbing, a hauntingly brilliant tale.” –The Baltimore Sun

“A fine, almost delicate book about what is unfathomable about us.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Portrayed in a fluid language that veers from the vernacular . . . to the surprisingly poetic.” –San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

“Haunting and natural. . . . South of the Border, West of the Sun so smoothly shifts the reader from mundane concerns into latent madness as to challenge one’s faith in the material world . . . contains passages that are among his finest.” –The New York Observer

“Haruki Murakami applies his patented Japanese magic realism–minimalist, smooth and transcendently odd–to a charming tale of childhood love lost.” –New York

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The feel of her hand has never left me. It was different from any other hand I'd ever held, different from any touch I've ever known. It was merely the small, warm hand of a twelve-year-old girl, yet those five fingers and that palm were like a display case crammed full of everything I wanted to know--and everything I had to know. By taking my hand, she showed me what these things were. That within the real world, a place like this existed. In the space of those ten seconds I became a tiny bird, fluttering into the air, the wind rushing by. From high in the sky I could see a scene far away. It was so far off I couldn't make it out clearly, yet something was there, and I knew that someday I would travel to that place. This revelation made me catch my breath and made my chest tremble.

I returned home, and sitting at my desk, I gazed for a long time at the fingers Shimamoto had clasped. I was ecstatic that she'd held my hand. Her gentle touch warmed my heart for days. At the same time it confused me, made me perplexed, even sad in a way. How could I possibly come to terms with that warmth?

After graduating from elementary school, Shimamoto and I went on to separate junior highs. I left the home I had lived in till then and moved to a new town. I say a new town, but it was only two train stops from where I grew up, and in the first three months after I moved I went to see her three or four times. But that was it. Finally I stopped going. We were both at a delicate age, when the mere fact that we were attending different schools and living two train stops away was all it took for me to feel our worlds had changed completely. Our friends were different, so were our uniformsand textbooks. My body, my voice, my way of thinking, were undergoing sudden changes, and an unexpected awkwardness threatened the intimate world we had created. Shimamoto, of course, was going through even greater physical and psychological changes. And all of this made me uncomfortable. Her mother began to look at me in a strange way. Why does this boy keep coming over? she seemed to be saying. He no longer lives in the neighborhood, and he goes to a different school. Maybe I was just being too sensitive.

Shimamoto and I thus grew apart, and I ended up not seeing her anymore. And that was probably (probably is the only word I can think of to use here; I don't consider it my job to investigate the expanse of memory called the past and judge what is correct and what isn't) a mistake. I should have stayed as close as I could to her. I needed her, and she needed me. But my self-consciousness was too strong, and I was too afraid of being hurt. I never saw her again. Until many years later, that is.

Even after we stopped seeing each other, I thought of her with great fondness. Memories of her encouraged me, soothed me, as I passed through the confusion and pain of adolescence. For a long time, she held a special place in my heart. I kept this special place just for her, like a Reserved [[small caps--sign]] sign on a quiet corner table in a restaurant. Despite the fact that I was sure I'd never see her again.

When I knew her I was still twelve years old, without any real sexual feelings or desire. Though I'll admit to a vaguely formed interest in the swell of her chest and what lay beneath her skirt. But I had no idea what this meant, or where it might lead.

With ears perked up and eyes closed, I imagined the existence of a certain place. This place I imagined was still incomplete. It was misty, indistinct, its outlines vague. Yet I was sure that something absolutely vital lay waiting for me there. And I knew this: that Shimamoto was gazing at the very same scene.

We were, the two of us, still fragmentary beings, just beginning to sense the presence of an unexpected, to-be-acquired reality that would fill us and make us whole. We stood before a door we'd never seen before. The two of us alone, beneath a faintly flickering light, our hands tightly clasped together for a fleeting ten seconds of time.

Meet the Author

Haruki Murakami lives in Oiso, Japan, just outside of Tokyo.

Brief Biography

Tokyo, Japan
Date of Birth:
January 12, 1949
Place of Birth:
Kyoto, Japan
Waseda University, 1973

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South of the Border, West of the Sun 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
I've seen several reviews comparing this novel to Norwegian Wood, and I have agree with the comparison; this is the perfect companion piece to NW. Like NW, SOTBWOTS is a more straightforward novel than most of Murakami's other works; no magic realism or SF elements. But where NW is a novel about young love, SOTBWOTS takes a much more adult perspective. Once again Murakami explores the themes of love, loss, and obsession, but this time through mature characters. For me this makes SOTBWOTS the more powerful novel. Where in NW there's a slight sense on youthful melodrama, a feeling of "get over yourself, this is life", SOTBWOTS feels more like real people, facing real problems. Recommended for all Murakami fans, especially those who enjoyed Norwegian Wood.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am truly surprised critics find THIS MUCH to say about the book! Murakami's style is easy-to-read and hard-to-stop. The book is colorfull in events, characters' feelings and thoughts. It takes a breath away and you finish it in no time. Although the book leaves a 'heavy' feeling, because of characters' broken dreams, your world is fuller after you've read it. Highly recommended!
The_Beastlord_Slavedragon More than 1 year ago
This book was my introduction to Haruki Murakami. The story is heart warming, like the romance we all had but yet never had, once upon a youthful innocence. His other books seem to build on this theme. For example, Nori No Mori Norwegian Wood. Beastdragon
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the 1st book I read from Murakami, for those who wants to start with this author's book I recommend starting with this one or Norweigan wood. why should start with this ones? Because the rest have magic realism elements that could be difficult to understand. NW and this books are really easygoing to read, love story from an Oriental point of view. If after finishing you love it, you won't be able to stop reading the rest of the pieces from Murakami.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Murakami's books (from Hear The Wind Sing to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) and this is the only one that has made me cry. Of course, Kafka had made me a bit sad and Norwegian Wood too but this made me sit down and cry for a bit. It also made me confused as well. If you dont want spoilers dont continue reading but I thought that possibly, Shimamoto was never real. I mean, she was real in his childhood of course but when he saw her that day and followed her, I dont think that was real. I think he had created an alternate reality South of The Border and West Of The Sun (you know, if you look at the title in terms of the body, South of the border could mean below the belt and West of the Sun could mean the direction of the heart). Anywa, Hajime had been missing her for so long, suffering because of his unfinished relatonship with her that he created her in his mind to try to resolve everything. I came to this conclusion because of the envelope that went missing and the record that she supposedly gave him. Also, there was the Izumi incident and well...Izumi is supposed to be dead. However, the book ends with rain falling in his mind (and rainfall is apparently a sign that indicates Shimamoto is about to arrive) and then he feels a hand on his shoulder. For all I know, he could be imagining that hand or, Shimamoto could be real either way, his life is a mess because of it. If Shimamoto is real then I dont like her at all. She is every bit the description of an only child that Hajime spoke about. Selfish, self-centred, spoiled. She apparently lives a life of luxury without having to work for anything and then she just pops up onto Hajime's life, disrupting him, his wife and everything around him. She could have left him alone. His life would have been perfect. I didnt get the bits with his father-in-law though. Struck me as a bit disjointed from the story but I feel they have significance. You never know with Murakami. Anyway, it was a rather short story, moving, slightly disturbing, creative and mind-boggling. I would only recommend this to Murakami veterans, since it might not be a good book to start the Murakami collection with. 4 stars for this.
HairlessJoe More than 1 year ago
It reminded me of a girl when I was that age. Now I wonder where she is now and how different things might have been.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my first reading of Murakami's, recommended by a Japanese friend. Though it might seem a redundant tale about a middle-aged Tokyoite who finds warmth and purpose in the rekindling of an old but unconsummated flame, South of the Border, West of the Sun stroke me as a profound book. It tells us about timing, about recognizing the very one love of a lifetime when it is there to take. If life is about making educated choices, then Hajime is an unlucky man because he was very young when Shimamoto entered his life in their teenage years. Only as he drifted through his 20s and 30s did he come to realize how he let his chance slip away and longs for her. All the rest is just backdrop: he can be poor, single and bored as a student and then a small-time editor, or wealthy, married and mildly satisfied as a jazz-club owner, the emptiness remains identical. Murakamis provides only minimum descriptions of places and people to let us concentrate on Hajime and Shimamoto. Their re-encounter is a long, dreamlike, uninterrupted sequence that you can visualize perfectly. There is obviously no escape for him but to reach for her. The ending is pessimistic but banal, making us once again realize that second chances are unattainable luxuries. What you come to realize after shutting this book close is that what you don't need to possess something to lose it, and with it the better part of yourself.
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mikedee23 More than 1 year ago
A spectacular exploration of a 37-year-old man forced into an existential crisis. 
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Ciufi More than 1 year ago
Very good book. Sad at times, but such a unique story.
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