South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun, by Haruki Murakami, is a coming of age tale written by a master of mystery and fantasy. Hajime, born in 1951, has grown up in affluence. An only child, he is different from the majority of other children with siblings. His childhood sweetheart, Shimimoto, is likewise isolated by being an only child, and having a slight limp. They understand each other in a profound way. Yet, as often happens with children, once Hajime moves with his family at age 12, the two are separated and lose contact. In high school, he has his first sexual relationship with another girl, Izumi, whom he betrays. During his college years, and into his 30's, he longs for the pure love he once felt for Shimamoto.

Now, in spite of a caring wife, two young daughters, and two successful bars, Hajime is discontented. He loves his wife, yet fails to truly communicate with her. One evening, Shimamoto appears in his bar. They begin a relationship, but Shimamoto disappears without warning. She comes back 6 months later, and their affair takes a new dimension.

Shimamoto is no longer the innocent girl of his childhood. She now has a dark and mysterious past. Indeed, both she and Izumi have ominous qualities. Haruki's obsession with Shimamoto, and his repetitive thoughts of Izumi, represent both his attraction and fear of death.

As in his other works, Murakami examines themes of alienation, death, and human cruelty. Although this novel employs less fantasy, the appearance of Izumi as an evil phantom of Haruki's imagination, an actualization of his bad conscience, contributes some magical realism. Both she and Shimamoto add suspense to the bildungsroman.

Beautifully crafted, this short novel is one that avid Murikami fans will love, and readers not yet acquainted with this fine author will likewise enjoy. Different from his other works, it will be enjoyed by anyone who loves fine writing and an engaging plot.

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