Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

Today's blog post will be a book review by a Japanese author, Haruki Murakami. (I haven't finished Catcher in the Rye yet.) I was first introduced to this author by my friend Amanda, (click for her blog) when I was a wee lassie in Year 9. (Ok, maybe not that wee lassie.)

I started off with Kafka on the Shore and even now I do not fully understand it. Mr. Murakami is well known for his use of surrealism that ties in with his themes of human life, emotions and the philosophy of existence.

My friend lent me this shorter novel of his (it's only 200 pages) so I finished it in a few days. I have read some other Murakami novels since Kafka, and this would be the latest.

It chronicles the life of Hajime, a child born in 1951. Being an only child, he had only one friend, Shimamoto, a girl. But they lost touch when he moved away. Growing up into his teens and then his twenties, we see Hajime gain a better grasp of how his life is progressing, but yet we see his selfish side, in a few chapters where he wounds his high school girlfriend emotionally.

Upon graduation he gets stuck in a dead-end job, aimless and directionless in his life for 8 years, until he meets Yukiko and marries her, settling into family life with two daughters, running a jazz bar.

Then one day, Shimamoto comes back. The book explores his feelings and his inability to forget his first love. All this paves the way to infidelity, and at the same time, some self-discovery. I have noticed that most of the Murakami novels I've read deal with self-discovery, and how you don't really know yourself until you learn from experience.

Also, most of the protagonists in his books are average, decent males who are searching for something, some inner fulfillment. This somewhat fits Hajime here. As a female teenage reader, I can't really relate to Hajime's mid-life crisis, but I do suppose it is an artistic expression of what goes through men's minds at this point. These days divorces are so common and to me, having an artistic impression of infidelity somehow makes the irrationality of human emotional motivation easier to tolerate.

Hajime's selfishness is highlighted well, and is clearly seen in a short conversation with his wife, where she points out that he assumes he knows what she is thinking and that he has never really asked her a question about anything. You'd think that she would be outraged, but instead, she just takes the blow, quietly stating to him that she feels the pain but nothing else.

I think that deep down, Hajime is afraid of being alone, maybe alone with no one but himself for company. He describes a "force" within him that he cannot overcome. The force of a selfish desire for his first love, perhaps? Someone he may never have. Here I think again of Buddha's words, "Desire is suffering."

While this book does not have much of that ethereal glow that I savour while reading other Murakami works, (I have read about a Sheepman, and fish raining from the sky) I found it enjoyable, because you could see the feelings point-blank. Sometimes the misty metaphors that he uses in other books take a while to adjust to an interpret. It seems like a straightforward story, but because of the way in which Hajime's feelings are described, like something blurred, something which lurks incessantly, it isn't that simple.

In conclusion, I was able to feel Hajime's desperation, and was relieved that he found some closure at the end of the book. Murakami's language is simple--even in Japanese (I read the English translation), but the things he conveys are not. South of the Border reads a bit like a dream, yet at all times you are made aware of reality lurking behind it. Then Murakami asks you: what is reality?

Wow, I've been rambling on. I can't stop soon enough when I talk about books. This isn't a serious review, though, I just want to expound on my thoughts on the book. Try a Murakami sometime. You may be surprised, or you may be disgusted, or you may love it, but I think it would be a unique experience.

1 comment:

Amanda Last Name Pending said...

dear youlin
i would read this
but am terribly afraid it contains spoilers
p.s idk if i've told you this before go for natsume soseki's and then
have never read it but i read the back of the book and i like the plot but there was also this small sentence from the book

Love Amanda :]