In South of the Border, West of the Sun, the simple arc of a man's life--with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment--becomes the exquisite literary terrain of Haruki Murakami's most haunting work.
Born in 1951 in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Hajime--beginning in Japanese--has arrived at middle age wanting for almost nothing. The postwar years have brought him a fine marriage, two daughters, and an enviable career as the proprietor of two jazz clubs. Yet a nagging sense of inauthenticity about his success threatens Hajime's happiness. And a boyhood memory of a wise, lonely girl named Shimamoto clouds his heart.
When Shimamoto shows up one rainy night, now a breathtaking beauty with a secret from which she is unable to escape, the fault lines of doubt in Hajime's quotidian existence begin to give way. And the details of stolen moments past and present--a Nat King Cole melody, a face pressed against a window, a handful of ashes drifting downriver to the sea--threaten to undo him completely. Rich, mysterious, quietly dazzling, South of the Border, West of the Sun is Haruki Murakami's wisest and most compelling fiction.
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March 14, 2000
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Excerpt from South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
My birthday's the fourth of January, 1951. The first week of the first month of the first year of the second half of the twentieth century. Something to commemorate, I guess, which is why my parents named me Hajime--"Beginning" in Japanese. Other than that, a 100 percent average birth. My father worked in a large brokerage firm, my mother was a typical housewife. During the war, my father was drafted as a student and sent to fight in Singapore; after the surrender he spent some time in a POW camp. My mother's house was burned down in a B-29 raid during the final year of the war. Their generation suffered most during the long war. When I was born, though, you'd never have known there'd been a war. No more burned-out ruins, no more occupation army. We lived in a small, quiet town, in a house my father's company provided. The house was prewar, somewhat old but roomy enough. Pine trees grew in the garden, and we even had a small pond and some stone lanterns. The town I grew up in was your typical middle-class suburb. The classmates I was friendly with all lived in neat little row houses; some might have been a bit larger than mine, but you could count on them all having similar entranceways, pine trees in the garden, the works. My friends' fathers were employed in companies or else were professionals of some sort. Hardly anyone's mother worked. And most everyone had a cat or a dog. No one I knew lived in an apartment or a condo. Later on I moved to another part of town, but it was pretty much identical. The upshot of this is that until I moved to Tokyo to go to college, I was convinced everyone in the whole world lived in a single-family home with a garden and a pet, and commuted to work decked out in a suit. I couldn't for the life of me imagine a different lifestyle. In the world I grew up in, a typical family had two or three children. My childhood friends were all members of such stereotypical families. If not two kids in the family, then three; if not three, then two. Families with six or seven kids were few and far between, but even more unusual were families with only one child. I happened to be one of the unusual ones, since I was an only child. I had an inferiority complex about it, as if there were something different about me, as if what other people all had and took for granted I lacked. I detested the term "only child." Every time I heard it, I felt something was missing from me--like I wasn't quite a complete human being. The phrase stood there, pointing an accusatory finger at me. "Something's not quite all there, pal," it told me. In the world I lived in, it was an accepted idea that only children were spoiled by their parents, weak, and self-centered. This was a given--like the fact that the barometer goes down the higher up you go and the fact that cows give milk. That's why I hated it whenever someone asked me how many brothers and sisters I had. Just let them hear I didn't have any, and instinctively they thought: An only child, eh? Spoiled, weak, and self-centered, I betcha. That kind of knee-jerk reaction depressed me, and hurt. But what really depressed and hurt me was something else: the fact that everything they thought about me was true. I really was spoiled, weak, and self-centered. In the six years I went to elementary school, I met just one other only child. So I remember her (yes, it was a girl) very well. I got to know her well, and we talked about all sorts of things. We understood each other. You could even say I loved her. Her last name was Shimamoto. Soon after she was born, she came down with polio, which made her drag her left leg. On top of that, she'd transferred to our school at the end of fifth grade. Compared to me, then, she had a terrible load of psychological baggage to struggle with. This baggage, though, only made her a tougher, more self-possessed only child than I could ever have been. She never wh