South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

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Summary

Hajime, currently a thirty-seven-year-old man, has an ideal life. Blessed with a beautiful wife, two young daughters, and no financial concerns, he is happier than most.

However, something is missing; something in Hajime is empty. The only caveat is… He doesn’t know what, why, or how to fill the void inside of him. Through Murakami’s achingly beautiful and alarmingly haunting writing, Hajime takes us back through the most meaningful relationships in his life in the hopes of discovering what he has lost in the process.


Memorable Quotes

“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,” (page 5).

“Second, no one around me-with the exception of Shimamoto, of course- ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew-a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence,” (page 11).

“‘There are some things in this world that can be done over, and some that can’t. And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone. Come this far, and you can’t go back. Don’t you think so?'” (Shimamoto; page 14).

“‘Now you’re able to think of a few things other than what’s under a girl’s skirt, right?’

‘A few,’ I said. ‘But if that’s got you worried, maybe next time you’d better wear pants!'” (page 146).

“‘You’re here,’ I continued. ‘At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be someplace else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. I reach out my hand to see, but you’ve hidden yourself behind a cloud of probablys. Do you think we can go on like this forever?'” (page 170).

“‘ I told you I love you. What’s wrong with thinking about the body of the man you love? Haven’t you thought about my body?'” (page 182).

Probably is a word you may find south of the border. But never, west of the sun,” (page 196).


Thoughts

Funny enough, after telling my dad about the magical world of, After Dark, he purchased Haruki Murakami’s, South of the Border, West of the Sun, for me as a Christmas gift. And wow, I am so glad he chose this book in particular! If I had been choosing for myself, I may have chosen, Kafka on the Shore, or even, A Wild Sheep Chase.  However, after the first few pages (I say this a lot, don’t I?) I was hooked. Reading this book feels like looking through stained glass. The writing is irresistibly  impeccable, re calling the most minute details from the sounds in a crowded bar to a small fold in a woman’s skirt.

The plot of the book is fairly simple. With no science fiction or magical realism at hand, South of the Border, West of the Sun, presents itself as mundane. In fact, most of the book is about facing the mundane and mechanical realities of everyday life. Hajime is an only-child, (something that seems to plague him deeply) and spends most of the book ruminating about his life and closest relationships.

Hajime begins (which is ironic because Hajime also means, “beginning,” in Japanese) the story by describing his relationship with his childhood neighbor and close friend, Shimamoto. Shimamoto is introspective, shy, and also an only-child. Although she never mentions it herself, she is quite self-conscious due to a permanent limp she has in her left leg from polio. At the tender age of twelve, the two form what seems to be the very beginnings of a lifelong love story. However, everything goes awry when Hajime’s family moves.After being separated from his closest friend, Hajime is forced to begin his life anew. But despite the distance, for years after, Hajime constantly recalls on Shimamoto with fondness.

During his high school years, Hajime falls in love with the lovely Izumi. Timid yet curious, Izumi etches a fixed place in Hajime’s mind. Although he spends most of his time lusting after her, Hajime proves time and time again that he deeply cares about Izumi. However, like most things in Hajime’s life, everything about the relationship appears perfect, except there is a piece missing from each encounter they have.

This pattern continues on until Hajime is in his thirties and he happens to meet his wife, Yukiko. Then comes the house, the dream job, his two daughters, the happy life. But the images of what could have been… and what still could be, disrupt everything.

This novel features topic matter which should be mildly depressing to a sensitive reader such as myself. I tend to shy away from sad books due to the fact that when I read, I simply don’t want to be depressed. Sure, I love to think, but I don’t believe all intellectual musings need to be depressing. (This is why I disliked most of the readings I was assigned in high school. Can we please have some comedies once in awhile?) However, something about Murakami’s writing in, South of the Border, West of the Sun, comes off as distant. When Hajime describes events in his life, he seems to hold his feelings at arm’s length. I am not sure if this was intentional, but somehow, any emotion in the book is dulled down to the point where you may feel something, but it may not be as painful as you imagined it would be. And this is neither to criticize the book, nor Murakami’s writing; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

While reading, I felt as if I was in a trance. Time was passing by, yet reading about Hajime’s life is the equivalent of looking at colorful blur of light from a fast-moving car. This makes sense because a major theme in the book is the flow of time. The idea that you can only move forward, is prevalent throughout the entire book and expressed by each character. This theme definitely reminded of, The Great Gatsby, (one high school read I did enjoy) due to certain characters’ obsessions with nostalgia and reliving forgotten moments.

Overall, I truly enjoyed reading this book. I adore Murakami’s writing because it can make any situation feel extraordinary and magical. To me, Murakami’s writing is the equivalent of the Midas Touch; anything he writes turns to gold. The characters, the imagery, the themes, etc. However, another special feature of his writing is that is makes me think more deeply about the world around me. Not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful way. His style is calmly and patiently observant. Murakami writes as if he has seen the world, lived it, observed it, and discovered its secrets. The only thing left to do is for him to leave the clues for everyone else to discover its meanings on his or her own.

 

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After Dark

After Dark by Haruki Marukami

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Summary

At the beginning of Haruki Marukami’s fictional novel, After Dark, we find ourselves immersed in a vivid, strange, and neon midnight world like no other. But before the rules and limits of this sprawling and ever-changing world can be processed, the narrator guides the reader into a simple Denny’s in one of Tokyo’s amusement districts.

Inside the Denny’s, we meet Mari, a college freshman. While the Denny’s is full of people chatting and eating, Mari is an outlier. She sits alone sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette or two, and concentratedly reading. Quick-witted but slightly stand-offish, she is absorbed in her book and somehow ignores the omnipresent noises around her. However, the course of Mari’s evening suddenly shifts when a young man named, Takahashi, strolls into the bustling Denny’s.

After Takahashi sits and leaves, the rest of the night’s events are all but mundane. With intriguing and mysterious occurrences around every corner, Mari soon realizes her idea of a peaceful night will all  be but shattered as embarks on a journey into the psyche of the people who live their lives from the darkest hours of midnight, to the wee hours of the early morning.

Hovering in the air like a humming electric pulse, Marukami’s writing continually suspends the imagination, spinning the reader in circles even after the pages end. The plot in, After Dark, truly tests the bounds of reality and puts forth many questions readers may never even think to ask. A fast-paced masterpiece, this novel is perfect for anyone looking to question our shared realities.


Memorable Quotes

“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep- the city looks like a single gigantic creature- or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms,” (page 1).

“‘Wow. I had awful grades, but I didn’t mind school all that much. If there was somebody I didn’t like, I’d just beat the crap out of them.’

Mari smiles. “I wish i could have done that…'” (page 68).

“‘Like, say, an octopus. A giant octopus living way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. It has the tremendously powerful life force, a bunch of long undulating legs, and it’s heading somewhere, moving through the darkness of the ocean. I’m sitting there listening to these trials, and all I can see in my head is this creature. It takes on all kinds of different shapes-sometimes it’s ‘the nation,’ and sometimes it’s ‘the law,’ and sometimes it takes on shapes that are more difficult and dangerous than that,'” (page 118).

“Mari thinks about what Korogi said. ‘I do feel that I’ve managed to make something I could maybe call my own world… over time… little by little. And when I’m inside it, to some extent, I feel kind of relieved. But the very fact I felt I had to make my own world probably means that I’m a weak person, that I bruise easily, don’t you think? And in the eyes of society at large, that world of mine is a puny little thing. It’s like a cardboard house; a puff of wind might carry it of somewhere,'” (pages 202-203).


Thoughts

First and foremost, I am truly sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. One of my main goals for 2017 is to start updating this blog at least once a week because I need to start reading and writing more on my own time.

I decided to read Haruki Murakami’s, After Dark, after I picked it up in a used bookstore and read thirty pages right on the spot. Honestly, I am still training myself to be patient when finding new books to read. Many times I will give up reading a book in just a page or two if it does not catch my attention immediately. Whether or not that is a mistake, I was astounded when, After Dark, caught my attention right from the first paragraph. In addition, a few of my very  well-read friends have been raving about Murakami’s work for quite some time, so I wanted to find something intriguing, but shorter page-wise, to begin my descent into Murakami’s world.

Looking back at the quotes I chose to use in this review, I think it is really interesting that most of them are dialogue-based. Although they may be a tad bit obscure and out of context to a reader who is unfamiliar with Murakami or this book, one of the most notable characteristics of, After Dark, is its winding dialogue. Since the story is told in third person omniscient, dialogue is extremely important when the book does not exactly focus on just one character in particular.

Initially, Mari seems to be the main character, but in reality, I like to think of this book as quilt of characters. At first we are only introduced to one patch of the quilt, but as we read on, we begin to see the whole picture and how each individual character is sewn into the quilt and the story.

What I really loved about reading this book was how Murakami can take a seemingly dull situation and make it into an exciting plot. All we know from the beginning is that we are introduced to a woman, Mari, who is reading alone in a crowded Denny’s after midnight. It doesn’t seem like a super interesting plot, but the way Murakami writes about the Denny’s makes it seem incredibly unique and almost personal. He describes the scene as if there is something about to happen… only, we don’t really know what it is. And then, Takahashi appears.

When I met Takahashi, I assumed I knew where the plot was going. A loner and a nerd, standoffish Mari can’t help but be pulled into the smiling and joking vortex that is Takahashi. Under his guidance and boyish charm, Mari explores the night world and is pulled into adventure after adventure. However, After Dark, is not a love story, and Murakami is not a simple writer. In fact, Mari and Takahashi’s first encounter is incredibly brief as he must return to practice with his band. And when he leaves, the real fun begins.

A tall, blonde woman comes into the Denny’s looking for Mari. She explains that Takahashi has sent her because he reported that Mari can speak fluent Chinese, and she needs Mari’s assistance. It turns out the woman is an ex-wrestler who works at a love hotel, and on her shift, a customer beat up a Chinese prostitute. After she pleads for Mari to translate, Mari accepts and journeys to the love hotel.

If this plot progression seems wacky, just wait. While Mari goes to the love hotel, Murakami introduces the reader to Mari’s sister, Eri Asai. Astoundingly beautiful even in her sleep, the reader watches as Eri sleeps peacefully in her bed. However, something is wrong with her sleep. It is… too peaceful. As Eri sleeps, her unplugged tv flickers to life until it shows the image of a masked man sitting alone in an empty room. Although the tv would suggest he is in a separate world than Eri’s, the narrator alarmingly reports that the man seems to be watching Eri slumber. And it only gets weirder.

After Dark, begins as fiction and then slowly warps into a sci-fy, magical realism sort of story. It seamlessly blends existential concepts with the realities of everyday life, while simultaneously suggesting that people are connected and separated in unfathomable ways.

**SLIGHT spoiler: Ultimately, the plot and mysteries of the stories remain just that; mysteries. I think I would need to read this book again in order to grasp every single theme because it is just so complex. What I love about, After Dark, is that it is stacked with a multitude of themes and filters. You could read the book just admiring Murakami’s gorgeous writing, or looking at specific character relationships. Or, you could read the novel just looking at the philosophical sides of the plot.

The best and most frustrating part about, After Dark, is the simple fact that it is so open-ended. There are certain characters who appear a couple of times, only to be left out of the conclusion at the end of the book. You know they are important somehow, but not exactly how or why. In addition, I really couldn’t pin this book down to just one genre because it crosses so many unexpected borders. All in all, I read, After Dark and enjoyed the experience. Since there are so many layers to the story, it is hard to read it for the first time and try to analyze all of its elements. Therefore, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.