Airiz C's Reviews > South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
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's review
Jun 15, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: romance, drama
Read from November 19 to 20, 2011 — I own a copy

I am a discriminating reader. Even if I love an author unreservedly, I don’t go around loving everything that he writes. After all, in a writer’s collection of works, not everything will be explosively brilliant; some of them will turn out as duds.

To many Murakami-experienced readers, South of the Border, West of the Sun definitely reads like the spiritual successor to his acclaimed novel Norwegian Wood. Both don’t have a much of magical realism (or surrealism?) in them that is commonplace in the majority of Murakami’s oeuvre; they deal with the quotidian lives of average people, with subtle twists that can instantly establish a connection with the readers.

Norwegian Wood is an amazing read, and for some time it made me believe that Murakami is indeed a versatile writer—he’s dangerously good when it comes to surreal stuff, but he can surely soar with a story that is not necessarily situated between dreams and reality. However, his sophomore work that falls into the latter category just proves to me that his forte is still with the ‘weird’ (not that I’m saying Norwegian Wood is a fluke).

The gist of South of the Border, West of the Sun is this: two childhood friends are separated by quite run- of-the-mill circumstances, until later in their lives—when the guy is already a successful jazz club proprietor and a family man—their paths converge again, sending everything haywire.

Now, the reason why ordinary love stories are not my cup of tea is that I’ve always been smitten with fantasy/science fiction. Fascinated by magic and out of this world material at an early age, I developed a penchant for fantastical juke-in-the-boxes embedded in the stories, things that can surprise you in a way ordinary stuff can’t, and events that can make your imagination go wild and bring you to different places like Narnia or Oz or Wonderland. It doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t go for the normal stuff, though; in fact one of my favorite novels of all time (The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano) is a contemporary soulmate tale. It’s just I don’t dig those with tales reminiscent of neighbor gossip stories. :p Norwegian Wood doesn’t sound like one, and add to that Murakami’s flair for the quirky, poetic words, and you can get a thumb up from me.

Anyway, I have to admit that SOTBWOTS is not one of Murakami’s better works. I’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running so I’ve caught glimpses of his personal life: he opens a jazz bar, loves music, loves literature. When I read that Hajime, the main protagonist, also opens a jazz bar, loves music, and loves literature, I found myself a little disappointed. It’s true that an author sometimes puts bits of himself into his characters, but Hajime is a literary Xerox copy of Murakami. Gary Stu? Perhaps.

There is nothing much to say about the plot, too, as you may have guessed from the gist I provided above. But what I liked about it is of course Murakami’s ever-tasteful choice of words, and the bittersweetness that lies underneath every thought that he puts on page. Almost every idea he shares will make you question what you believed in the past, and it will also make you look back at the things you’ve taken for granted. His humor, which I’ve always loved ever since reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, is also peppered in some of the passages.

All in all it’s still a decent read. There are a few haunting moments that I liked, but nothing that can leave indelible marks in my memories.
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Reading Progress

11/19/2011 page 47
21.0% "I'm not sure if I'll like this, but it's still early to make any conclusions. If you read enough Murakami's in the past, you'll notice how almost all his male narrators resemble each other...from their main character traits to their fixation w/ books, music, cats, mysterious girls...and ears. It's always the ears. LOL. I hope I find something new here."
11/20/2011 page 224
100.0% "Finished it last night. It's thought-provoking all right, but I can't help myself but to dislike the narrator. Review to follow. :p"
10/16/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by A.A (new) - rated it 4 stars

A.A Murakami knows how to balance what is surreal from what is real. Still, he captures the human spirit with simple stories. :-)

Airiz C April Anne wrote: "Murakami knows how to balance what is surreal from what is real. Still, he captures the human spirit with simple stories. :-)"

I know what you're trying to say, but I still believe that Murakami's bailiwick is the surrealistic works. This work of his is far inferior to Norwegian Wood (which I liked, and is a simple story that captures the human spirit too lol). There's just something about this that doesn't feel...whole. Just try the female protagonist, Shimamoto, for example. Does she ever feel like a real character to you? Aside from being an enigma and the childhood sweetheart figure, that is.

She's one dimensional, to be honest. Still, Murakami is amazing when it comes to portraying human emotions, just like what I've implied in the review. :)

message 3: by A.A (new) - rated it 4 stars

A.A I agree. There's a missing piece in this story. It lacks that satisfying feeling as a reader. I really love reading your reviews! :-)

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