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

reviewed by J.M. Frank

I have always been a big fan of Haruki Murakami, so I was a little apprehensive starting this book. From the beginning, this was clearly like no Murakami novel I have read before. Murakami has always written long, complex novels, filled with the bizarre and surreal. From an alternate world inside a character’s mind, to murders accomplished on the psychic plane, Murakami has often revealed unusual aspects of the mental rather than physical landscape. His new novel is a short (about 200 page) love story, with nothing that would strain anybody’s credibility.

The plot here is straightforward. The main character has a childhood girlfriend, whom he eventually loses touch with. He has many relationships after that, but no relationship ever has the closeness he experienced with that girl. Eventually, he marries, has children, becomes successful, and finds the girl again.

There are only two real choices for how things will turn out, so it might seem like there is not much to this novel. But there is. First, it is beautifully told. Even without fantastic elements, Murakami manages to insert a sense of mystery throughout the novel. There are some excellent images and moments in the novel, told not with the American tendency for over-description, but with the Japanese simplicity. This is a novel that is quiet, somewhat slow moving, but with great depth. It tells much more than a love story; exploring how minor events can alter our future, how small, careless acts can destroy a life, and the different levels of love, happiness, and existing in this world.

For those who tend to like only the realistic, this is the Murakami novel to read. For readers who are already Murakami fans, this is a very worthwhile read, even if it lacks the level of complexity in his other works.


South of the Border...

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