Aside from J.K. Rowling and Cheryl Strayed, Haruki Murakami is the main author I turn to when I need a comfort read. There’s something quiet and soothing about his writing. He often has his characters swim laps, evoking long, stretched-out strokes and a kind of relaxing repetition. As a (lapsed) swimmer, I get a similar feeling from Murakami’s writing. Starting one of his books always feels like diving in and taking the first few glorious strokes after a long absence from the pool. There’s that refreshing “ah yes, this,” and then a comforting rhythm and precision as I pull myself through the water, taking the same number of strokes each lap. As with swimming, I pretty much know what to expect when I crack open a new-to-me Murakami book; whether it’s set firmly in reality or involves talking cats and prophecies, I know there are going to be certain themes, characters, and occurrences. (These similarities are so common that Grant Snyder created a Haruki Murakami Bingo board.)
I recently read my sixth Murakami novel in a moment when I very much needed something comforting, and South of the Border, West of the Sun did the trick; it had all of the Murakami-isms I love, and I had fun not only playing Murakami Bingo, but making my own list of all the motifs I spotted:
- Love of cats
- Jazz and classical music
- Girl with tiny ears
- Mysterious woman
- A main character who likes to read, gets decent grades without really trying, and is kind of a solitary loner
- Quotes like “I’m just an ordinary guy, living an ordinary life,”
- And “Lead a well-regulated life, never overdo anything, and watch your diet: that was my motto.”
Although I really enjoyed South of the Border, West of the Sun, it doesn’t stand out to me as one of Murakami’s best books. Although I just read it a few weeks ago, images and emotions have stuck with me far more than the actual plot — which, as Goodreads reminds me, is about a man, Hajime, who has built a comfortable life for himself; he has a wife and two daughters, and he owns two successful jazz clubs. But when Shimamoto, the lonely girl he loved and lost as a teen, reappears in his life with an inescapable secret, his life takes a strange turn. In typical Murakami fashion, the ending left me a bit baffled and confused.
I probably wouldn’t recommend South of the Border, West of the Sun to readers who are trying to figure out where to start reading Murakami (I’m going to stick with Norwegian Wood, followed by Kafka on the Shore, and then The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), but it’s definitely worth a read for people who are already fans!
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