The Master of Melancholy..

..that is Haruki Murakami – my most favourite author of all time. Today I flicked through his South of the Border, West of the Sun for the nth time. I often do so when having nothing better to do, or being overwhelmed with a sense of getting lost in the vastness that is life. For those who like to sample the world’s finest literature, I bet Murakami is already a familiar name. He is best known for his epic Norwegian Wood, which I shall write about another day. Norwegian Wood was the first book of his that I read – a complete triumph of literature which left me hungry for more, at the same time wondering what he would be able to do for its encore.  

Being a hardcore fan of Murakami, I’ve so far read most of his books. South of the Border, West of the Sun is not a big novel, with only under 200 pages. But it is nevertheless a work of brilliant layers and depth. Although not as surreal as his other works (for instance, Hard-boiled Wonderland and The end of the World), it is a lot closer to our lives. Reading it we can relate, identify, and reflect, no matter what age we are at, whether it’s a mid-life crisis or a teenage love we are having.

The protagonist of South of the Border, West of the Sun is Hajime – his name literally means ‘the beginning’ in Japanese. On the face of it, the book tells a simple love story of him and his childhood friend Shimamoto. First met at elementary school, they were both only children, shared similar taste in music, and had affection for each other. But as with most childhood friendships, they grew apart. Years later, Hajime was a successful businessman who owned two jazz bars, married with two children. His life seemed complete, until Shimamoto reappeared. Hajime’s feelings for her were renewed and deepened, like they had never parted their ways in the first place. Before long they were involved in an affair that changed his life, her life and the lives of all others.

The plot is so weepily beautiful and haunting; it drained me for weeks after my first read. Hajime is the every one of us in this novel. The symbolic world he describes is so intense, yet unobtrusive it could almost be our own. And Shimamoto, always appears on quiet, rainy evenings, she is all that we want and cannot have.

My words slowly lost their strength and, like raindrops glued to the window, slowly parted company with reality. On rainy nights I could barely breathe. The rain twisted time and reality. 

When Shimamoto vapour for good, and when decision time came for Hajime: to go after her and be destroyed, or stay; this is how he felt:

All strength was drained from my body, as if someone had crept up behind me and silently pulled the plug. Both elbows on the table, I covered my face with my palms.
Inside that darkness, I saw rain falling on the sea. Rain softly falling on a vast sea, with no one there to see it. The rain strikes the surface of the sea, yet even the fish don't know it is raining. 
Until someone came and rested a hand lightly on my shoulder, my thoughts were of the sea. 

Similarly to Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, West of the Sun has its music elements. You cannot read it without the urge to listen to Nat King Cole’s track of the same title, or sink into the sea of romance that is Duke Ellington’s Star-crossed Lovers. When Hajime was young, he listened to South of the Border together with Shimamoto. Its prospects fascinated them both, made them think of something mysterious, ‘big, soft, and beautiful’. ‘West of the Sun’ is a more elusive phrase, meaning ‘hysteria siberiana’ - an illness affecting Siberian farmers overwhelmed by the distance in and the plains of Siberia, heading off "like someone possessed" for a land west of the sun.

There is no middle ground. Probably is a word you may find south of the border. But never, ever, west of the sun. 

The book is a reflection on time and loss. Not the loss of love, nor the loss of your loved ones, it portrays the loss of innocence and imagination. With time, we learn to leave behind our past, and move on, somewhat hesitantly, under the weight of life and of social responsibilities. 


P.S.: Aren’t you thinking of rain falling on the sea right now?
P.P.S: Trying not to sound too pretentious, I shall eventually probably write about my top 5 art pieces of all time. This is a definite number 1. 

P.P.P.S: I love this book so much I made a playlist of the songs mentioned :) Enjoy! (Click on the links if you have Spotify). 

Rossini overtures
Pastorale – Beethoven
Peer Gynt Suite
Liszt piano concertos
Christmas songs – Bing Crosby

Pretend – Nat King Cole
South of the Border – Nat King Cole
Corcovado – Frank Sinatra
Star-crossed Lovers – Duke Ellington
Embraceable You – Nat King Cole
As time goes by – Nat King Cole


April said...

I want to read this post, but I can't!! I hadn't finished the book - so hard to restraint myself and not read it :-)

Hien said...

Yay! I can't wait til you finish it and offer your expert opinion :) I'm not even sure if what I wrote makes any sense?! x

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