Evan'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
Apr 22, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: asia, yearning, 2010-reads
Read from April 12 to 13, 2010

Eh, this was Orange Crush trying to masquerade as champagne.

The book's lynchpin is a lifelong unrequited or dashed youthful romance that obsesses the protagonists, Hajime (he) and Shimamoto (she), each -- unknowingly to the other -- holding a candle over a vast span of time. Unfortunately, Murakami is no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and this glass of soda pop novel is no Love in the Time of Cholera.

I'm not a guy who requires plot, per se, but what plot there is here is perfunctory; Murakami makes things way too easy for his protagonist Hajime in order to grease the skids from point A to B. His main strategy seems to set up a longing, create a vast bridge of banality in between, and then get to where you know the thing is obviously going, to the poignant reunion. There's never any sense of tension or anything earned or that resembles real life; he skates over vast periods of time and whole lifespans in a few sentences. Most of the book is an academic exercise in biding time until the inevitable encounter with the exalted lost love. The essence of Hajime's work life is reduced to sentences such as "I hated my job. It was boring." Things seem to happen too easily for him; his marrying into money and opening a chic jazz bar (what a great atmosphere for a noirish reunion) come off as a deus ex machina more than anything. Anytime Murakami wants to add any kind of flavor or to flesh things out, he resorts to easy pop cultural markers, Nat King Cole records, Casablanca and such.

A relatively large amount of time is spent tying Hajime to his father-in-law's shady dealings, yet nothing comes from all the set up. There are a lot of things like that in the book. Foreshadowings to nothing. I assume that some have even suggested that this may be a ghost story; there are numerous indications of this, but let's not get into spoiler territory.

This reminded me of a lesser Philip Roth novel, specifically, Indignation; another coming-of-age tale, well enough done and wistful but also half-hearted and ho-hum. Nothing here you haven't encountered before. Based on this, Murakami is no Kawabata or Mishima. It's entertaining and moves along, readable in a couple of hours; but is mostly shallow and forgettable.
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Reading Progress

04/12 page 20
04/12 page 140
65.73% "So far this seems rather shallow."
04/12 page 213
100.0% "Eh. Will review it tomorrow. My first Murakami. Not all that impressed."
05/15 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Tammy Comparing orange soda and champagne? What a peculiar notion.

Evan Not when the book is soda pop and it wants you to think it's champagne.

Tammy I've been searching for a story that resembles mine so I don't have to write it myself. But I agree with you, discerning reader, that soda pop has giant size bubbles compared to Veuve Clicquot.

Tatjana foreshadowings to nothing indeed. and lots of tiresome repetitions - his choice of less noticeable girls is just one of the recurrent motifs.

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