Wednesday 13 April 2011

South of the Border, West of the Sun, Straight in My Heart

Hajime is an only child. So am I. He loves reading books and listening to music. So do I. He is regarded by others as eccentric, selfish, self-consumed, and strange because he is an only child. So am I. Most of the time Hajime prefers being alone; not that he doesn't have friends; he just keeps other people at distance. So do I. The only person he ever let close to him is his childhood friend Shimamoto. At the age of 22, Hajime is bored with life, he doesn't see any purpose, and he feels his life is over. So do I.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is a story of growing up and searching. For fulfillment, for love, for peace, for all those things people spend their lives searching for. South of the Border, West of the Sun is the story of Hajime - a boy born in post-war Japan and growing up in the suburbs. At the age of 12 he meets Shimamoto, a girl with a lame leg and also an only child. They develop a strong relationship, based not only on their alienation from the rest of the world, but also on their shared common interests. They listen to jazz and classical music, they take long walks, they talk, share, and touch. Yet, life is often unfair. Hajime moves to another town and the two of them lose touch for more than 20 years. Yet, Hajime never forgets his first and only love.

Years go by and Hajime is already grown up. Bored from his life, having passed numerous senseless affairs and trapped in a job he detests, Hajime is ready to give up on life. His twenties are marked up by despair, desolation, and further loneliness. The image of Shimamoto never fades away, but Hajime hasn't tried contacting her. Yet, she appears in the most unexpected moment, when Hajime' life is already stable and ordinary. He has a family, children, and a successful business running a jazz club. Shimamoto reappears, beautiful, changed, intense, enveloped in mystery. Hajime is once again enchanted by his childhood friend, realizing all of these years she was the one thing that kept his life incomplete. Now, he is facing Sophie's choice -to abandon everything he has worked for for the woman he loves or to continue with his trivial existence.

I loved Murakami's book. It is sensual, romantic, powerful, full of desire and feelings. Love, as Murakami sees it, is irrational and vertiginous. It doesn't fade away with years, it gives life a purpose and a direction. Without this love, the one that aches your heart, corrupts your mind, and leaves you exhausted and crushed, our life is incomplete. We can build a stable life, we can have a fabulous job, we can have a family that loves us, children that worship us, friends that support us. Yet, this unrequited, unexperienced love grows as a little bacteria in our body, slowly taking over it as a disease. It leaves us wondering: "Is there something worth south of the border, west of the sun, some cure for this suffering, some experience to make us feel again?"

Haruki Murakami is amazing. He creates a different novel about love. Not the sugar-coated stories of impossible love, but the true story of the souls, whose life separates them and reunites them after years of searching and suffering. Two lost souls, whose only hope for happiness and fulfillment is in each other's arms. Life is never that simple, though. You know what you want from life but you know you're not living the life you want. Do you dare change it?

Murakami is expected to be the next Noble prize winner. People say he is commercial. So what if he is? His style is understandable, clear, tender, delicate, real. He talks about real people, real situations, real life. He will touch you, make you think, provoke you, make you cry, but never never leave you indifferent. How can anyone be indifferent when we talk about love?

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