South of the Border, West of the Sun

Not long ago I re-read the novel South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami and I realized that I still hadn’t written about this fabulous love story in this blog.

Sometimes Japanese literary critics criticize Haruki Murakami for being a Japanese author that “is barely Japanese” and for being too influenced by Western culture. If you could measure the “japanicity” of the novel, South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami would be his most “Japanese” novel, which deals with topics such as nostalgia “natsukashisa 懐かしさ” and the impermanence of time.

The two main characters, despite being adults, behave like teenagers by avoiding their responsibilities as members of society and, in the case of Hajime, by eluding his family.

These are some paragraphs that I took from the novel that caught my attention (no spoilers):

“But you don’t know how empty it feels not to be able to create anything.”
“I’m sure you’ve created more things than you realize.”
“What sort of things?”
“Things you can’t see,” I replied. I examined my hands, resting on my knees.
She held her glass and looked at me for a long while. “You mean like feelings?”
“Yes, ” I said. “Everything disappears some day. Like this bar – it won’t go for ever. People’s tastes change, and a minor fluctuation in the economy is all it would take for this to go under. I’ve seen it happen; it doesn’t take much. Things that have form will all disappear. But certain feelings stay with us for ever.

“Our world’s exactly the same. Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by lizards, lizards are eaten by birds. But in the end every one of them dies. They die and dry up. One generation dies, and the next one takes over. That’s how it goes. Lots of different ways to live. And lots of different ways to die. But in the end that doesn’t make a bit of difference. All that remains is a desert.”

“I pay him a lot of money. Which is a secret as far as the other employees are concerned. The reason for the high salary is his talent for mixing great drinks. Most people don’t realize it, but good cocktails demand talent. Anyone can make passable drinks with little effort. Train them for a few months and they can make a standard-issue mixed drink – the kind most bars serve. But if you want to take it to the next level, you’ve got to have a special flair. Like playing the piano, painting, running the hundred-metre sprint. … It’s like art. There’s a line only certain people can cross. So once you find someone with talent, you’d best take good care of them and never let them go. Not to mention paying them well.”

“Everyone just keeps on disappearing. Some things just vanish, as if they were cut away. Others fade slowly into the mist. And all that remains is a desert.”

“The sad truth is that some things can’t go backwards. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back to the way they were. If even one little things goes awry, then that’s how it will stay for ever”

“I don’t know… maybe thinking about ways to spend money is best, after all,” I said. I let go of her hand and felt that I was about to drift away somewhere. “When you’re always scheming about ways to make money; it’s like a part of you is lost.”


Other posts about Haruki Murakami: