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Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun is set in 1950s post-war Japan, and centres around the comfortable, complacent existence of Hajime, a family man and owner of a jazz bar. However, Hajime comes to face the internal predicament of whether or not to give up this life when his childhood companion, Shimamoto, mysteriously reappears and their relationship soon evolves into romance.
This novel is stunningly interpreted from Japanese to English by Philip Gabriel. Murakami’s language is fluid and accessible, creating a smooth, simple read that is equally gripping and complex. He manages to evoke strong feelings of nostalgia for a time and a culture associated with the bohemian jazz music scene, by weaving throughout his work a romanticised strain of unbridled sensuality. This work is also no exception to Murakami’s practice of presenting the reader with multiple concepts and ideas requiring a real effort to wrap your head around, and you leave the page pondering many of the lines he has crafted.
You are left with a sense of empty space, a need for closure after reading; you somehow want the narrative interpreted a second time, not from Japanese to English, but from haunting intangibility to something more concrete, that makes sense… but that’s not the point. After the last page of this book, you will always feel like you’re still there.
South of the Border, West of the Sun is definitely going to be appropriate for those at all levels of literacy; the reader is welcome to delve as shallow or as deep as they choose. That is part of the book’s charm. I encourage people to pick it up sometime and have a go, and do it with an open mind. Murakami’s style is in some ways very unique, but also very beautiful.