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

“For a long time, she held a special place in my heart. I kept this special place just for her, like a “Reserved” sign on a quiet corner table in a restaurant. Despite the fact that I was sure I’d never see her again.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 224 pages
Read from November 26, 2020 to December 2, 2020

I just realised that I am four books shy of having read everything by Murakami (23 books according to his website). If that doesn’t show that he is my favourite author then I don’t know what does. No matter what book I pick up by Murakami, regardless of the plot, each book brings me back to the same feelings; comforting, welcoming, and familiar.

South of the Border and West of the Sun is a love story and while much of Murakami’s work have love stories in them it isn’t always the main focus. This one was an exception. Hajime is an only child and he’s a bit hung up on it as he feels that only children are different. During his childhood, he makes a friendship with a girl with a lame leg called Shimamoto. Shimamoto also happens to be an only child and the two of them find a friendship that carries them into adolescence as they spend their time listening to music and talking about the future. The two of them grew apart as they got older, as adolescent friendships often do. However, even when Hajime reaches middle age, is married with children, a successful business owner with a seemly ordinary and happy life, he cannot stop thinking about Shimamoto and what could have been. Shimamoto predictably reappears in his life, igniting a passion in Hajime that he can’t ignore and will risk everything for.

As a reader, Hajime’s obsession becomes your obsession as you anxiously anticipate what will happen when Hajime somehow reunites with Shimamoto. That doesn’t, however, make it any less heartbreaking when his wife finds out what he’s been doing.

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

The book itself is a testament to the power of memory and nostalgia, as well as the risks and rewards of indulging in them. The story is also very much about childhood and the dissatisfaction that comes with becoming an adult and the endearing power of first love.

“…..the sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”

This book, however, lacked the pull that most Murakami books have for me as perhaps it was too love-centred or that I was generally more interested in Shimamoto and her life and thoughts than Hajime’s perspective. I’m usually not bothered by the male-centeredness of most Murakami novels or the lack of real characteristics he gives his female characters as the protagonist’s story feels universally relatable to me. I’m not saying that this character wasn’t, I just found myself more interested in Shimamoto this time around.

It’s a safe book for first-time Murakami readers but it’s definitely not his best. The book itself is still very much a Murakami novel and I still found enjoyment in it.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

“Ever since I was little my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 96 pages.
Read on July 4, 2019.

This is a perfect example of a book that you should not read on any sort of e-reader. The novella is its own form of art with its unique open-flap cover and varying font formats and sizes throughout its pages. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to say no to when you see on the shelf at a library or bookstore.

The plot of The Strange Library is strange indeed. I mean, most of Murakami’s works are strange but this short novel had a different feel to it. It’s the tamest Murakami book I’ve read so far as well as there are no sexual references within this book. Or of cats. Or of food, for that matter, which are normally typical themes within Murakami’s books.

A boy, whose mother is expecting him home for dinner, gets lured into a strange section of the library by an old man who wants to eat his brains. The man insists that knowledgeable brains taste better so he insists that the boy read tomes of books for a few months before he is going to be eaten. A sheep-man appears to be the old man’s slave as he unwillingly does his bidding out of fear. As time passes the boy, sheep-man, and a mysterious girl plot their escape from the maze of the strange library.

The plot is like a childish nightmare, hence the sheep-man (counting sheep), worrying about not being home in time for dinner, an extensive maze, and cannibalism as they seem like things a young boy would have nightmares about, which is something I didn’t come to see right away. After coming to this realization I came to appreciate the story much more. Having said that, the story is still very different from other things that Murakami has done and I didn’t care for it as much as some of his other books.  It was still a short and pleasurable read and well worth picking up if you’re looking to catch up on a reading goal.

 

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

4/5 stars.
ebook, 1050 pages.
Read from November 06 to December 19, 2015.

There are certain books that haunt you long after you’ve read them. Books that have you so interwoven in the plot and story that you feel like you’ve been there. And characters that you feel like you’ve known for a lifetime. That was this book for me. Again, Murakami has managed to impress me. While his writing style isn’t for everyone, this monster of a novel is not as threatening as is looks.

This isn’t your typical fiction novel. It’s an all encompassing book that covers a few genres: dystopia, romance, mystery and fantasy. Set in the 1980’s in Japan, a young woman named Aomame discovers that she has crossed over into a parallel universe. She aptly names it 1Q84, the “Q” meaning question mark. Meanwhile math teacher and aspiring writer, Tengo, is agreeing to a sketchy ghostwriting assignment that introduces him to the strange and remarkable girl named Fukaeri. After some defining experiences  in a religious cult, Fukaeri has pressing need to tell her story. For Tengo, something about writing this young girl’s story and her beliefs start to awaken something in him and he knows that even if he is discovered as the ghost writer of her story, it is essential that he writes it. Tengo’s timid life begins to awaken. The plot lines between Aomame and Tengo begin to merge as you learn that they once knew each other as school children and shared a moment that has marked both of them. They don’t know it, but they have since yearned and thought of each other since that day. Connected to each other, both Aomame and Tengo have a major part to play in the unfolding of Fukaeri’s story and the world of 1Q84.

In looking at other reviews of this book and there are some clear haters of this novel! I suppose I can understand why: it’s long, it’s peculiar and if Murakami’s style and character’s don’t resonate with you, then you will likely also hate this book. Some of the reviews mention the the misogynist and male view in regards to anything sexual in the book and in a way, while I was reading the reviews, it dawned upon me that they’re not completely wrong. However, while I was reading the book itself I didn’t notice these points and it ultimately just didn’t read or feel that way to me. I also don’t believe it was the author’s intention either. Anything sexual in the book felt, to me, essential to the characters and the peculiar plot, especially once you learn about the love that Aomame and Tengo share. The sex that they were having previously and the lives that they were living prior to finding one another was a way to fill an emotional hole that only the two of them could fill. Additionally, if you read enough Murakami you will find that sex always seems to find its way into his novels and usually in a very strange way; try reading Kafka on the Shore if you want something really weird!

Based on the Murakami books I’ve read so far this is a pretty decent breakdown,the only thing it’s missing is sex:
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In this novel, classical music is focused on more than Jazz, specifically the work by Leoš Janáček. There is also a Town of Cats in which Tengo visits his father, ears are definitely mentioned, Tengo has repeated weird dream sequences/flashbacks of his mother, and there a lot of talk about food. Tengo and Aomame both cook a lot. I wonder if Murakami is constantly hungry while he writes? I just finished his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and he is a major runner and triathlete so my guess is that, yes, he is always hungry. I know the pain!

Anyways, I haven’t stopped thinking about this novel. I finished this book before I moved over to Hong Kong actually and while I haven’t been to Japan (yet), where this book was set, there was something about moving over to Hong Kong that felt like I was stepping into 1Q84. There is just something about this story that just hits me; it’s story of self-discovery and romance that is actually romantic  The character’s self-reflection is intriguing and philosophical, yet relatable. While the book was long, I found myself looking forward to reading it and I didn’t have to  trudge through it in the slightest.

In terms of recommendations, if you like Murakami then I would definitely read this book! If you’re considering reading Murakami for the first time, I think I would hold off on this one and try perhaps, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage first. Overall, this book is going on my life of favourites, something I haven’t done in almost 4 years!