Tag Archives: Haruki Murakami

South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami (trans. Philip Gabriel)

imgres-2It’s always a pleasure to pick up a Murakami.  How can you not want to read on after this understated opening:

My birthday is January 4th 1951.  The first week of the first month of the second half of the twentieth century.  Something to commemorate, I suppose, which is why my parents named me Hajime – “Beginning” in Japanese…

This is the thing with Murakami, his writing is understated and yet you get so much out of it; it’s incredibly rewarding to read.  With South of the Border, West of the Sun Murakami has managed, as he often does, to achieve depth with such brevity.  

As a youngster Hajime meets the love of his life, an only child like himself, Shimamoto understands him like no-one else, even without long conversation they seem bound by something more than mutual understanding and emotion.  Alas, his family moves house, they go to different schools and drift apart.  Hajmie meanders through adolescence and his 20s, always looking for more meaning, but not putting in any effort to find it.  His thoughts are constantly on Shimamoto and he’s always restless.  Then he meets his wife, Yukiko, and his life turns a corner.  He opens two jazz bars and becomes a successful businessman.  Just as he’s settling down in his late 30’s, Shimamoto comes back into his life when she turns up at his bar one night.  Despite that this is what he has always wanted, her return confuses him.

A little aside here; I do wonder how much of himself Murakami wrote into this book.  Born in the post-war baby boom, jazz bar owner, obsessive swimmer (Murakami is a ritualistic runner).  Just a thought..back to the review.

This book touches on several themes including the reliability of memory, loneliness and alienation in a big world but mostly its about consequences and dealing with your decisions and actions.  Shimamoto’s mantra (repeated at least 3 times in the 187 pages) is:

…there are things in this world that can be changed and some that can’t.  And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone.

There are a couple of occasions when Hajime questions why he does certain things and they are really poignant moments – to the point where I wanted him to learn his lesson.

 …that I could hurt somebody so badly she could never recover.  That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.

Maybe I’ve just lost the chance to ever be a decent human being.  The mistakes I’d committed – maybe they were part of my very make-up an inescapable part of my being.

Knowing Hajime’s past actions and his feelings for Shimamoto, the story builds to a predictable point with a classic Murakami (and maybe Japanese, I’m not well read enough to be certain) magical, other-worldly scene after which Hajime’s life as he knew it, falls apart.  There is no escaping his actions now, there is no escaping himself.  But he gets a chance at living up to his name and beginning again.  He decides he will finally take responsibility for the ones who care about him most rather than being so selfish, but will he really? Probably not.

And here’s the thing with this book, I loved it, but I really disliked Hajime.  He is egotistical, self-centred, disrespectful to all his female companions other than Shamimoto and wallows far too much in his own self-pity.  I had no patience for his behaviour.  But then it wouldn’t have been the same book had he been an all-round nice guy, reliable husband and father, nice to old ladies and kittens.  So despite not liking the main character, I have to admit that Murakami has done it again and sucked me in with his poetic prose, might need to raid my shelf for more!

I read this for January in Japan

January in Japan

January in Japan

What better way to start a new year than to join a shared reading/blogging event to blow away the cobwebs of the festive season and begin the year with real purpose? With that in mind and having enjoyed German Literature Month in November, I signed up for January in Japan, hosted by Tony from Tony’s Reading List.  He’s even created a dedicated blog for the event, so if you are interested in finding out who’s taking part and what they are reading here’s where to go: January in Japan.  Tony has also added some very comprehensive write-ups on Japanese writers, all so helpful if you are embarking on your first major foray into Japanese literature!

January in Japan

The great thing about joining a shared reading event like this one is that the hosts don’t mind if you read one book or several.  Lucky for me, because as much as I would love to read lots of Japanese books this month I am limiting myself to a more realistic two titles!

StrangersStrangers by Taichi Yamada

This is essentially a ghost story about a middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter who returns one night to the rundown district of Tokyo where he grew up.  He meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father. And so begins his ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they had died many years before.  Could be creepy.  There is a huge following for this book.  I first heard it mentioned by the publisher and blogger, Scott Pack.  Since then I’ve heard lots of praise for it.

imgres-2South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

Hajime, an only child growing up in post-war Japan had a friend in Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father’s record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch.  Now he is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears and Hajime is catapulted into the past, causing him all sorts of problems.

This book has been sat on our shelf for some time, so reading it not only adds to January in Japan, but also helps towards reading some of the neglected books in my house.

I will post the first review for January in Japan in the next few days and look forward to finding out what other contributors have chosen to read.

Reading Manifesto 2013

I had two personal, non-book related resolutions in mind for 2013 but only a few hours into the New Year one of them is already on hold.  The resolution was simply to run more, especially off-road.  However, this goal was scuppered on Boxing Day.  Mr FH, his brother and I challenged ourselves to a woodland 10k run and while trying to keep up with them I fell quite spectacularly leaving me covered in mud and mush with a painful foot and ankle ligament injury and a very sore coccyx! I’m lucky my ankle isn’t fractured, but I can’t run for a while, but oh my, it is painful.  I’m not entirely sure this is what Haruki Murakami was referring to when he said “pain is inevitable” in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  Anyhow.

The other personal resolution is to find a job; a proper one that pays real money and everything…!  This March I will have been a full-time mother for 10 years, it’s about time I got myself back into the real economy somehow, but what to do?  I don’t want a job like I had before with all the corporate nonsense that went with it – so ideas anyone?

When it comes to reading I have a few thoughts about 2013.  I want to stretch myself, but not be completely unrealistic about what I aim to achieve.  Reading, after all, is a pleasurable hobby and not something that has to be endured.  I’m a slow reader compared to other bloggers (I read somewhere the other day about a blogger who read 180 books last year, puts my 45 between Feb and Dec 2012 to shame), but I want to enjoy what I read and I don’t want to feel obliged to read something because it is the current favourite.  At the same time I want to be able to take part in discussions on popular books, so I need to find that perfect balance.   Also, I need to take care not to overspend on books.  So here goes:

Sourcing Books in 2013

Check out the two pictures I’ve added below of a couple of my downstairs bookshelves (ignoring the gnome sat at the top, an addition for my garden once it’s been landscaped and a present from my MIL).


I don’t even “see” the books on these shelves anymore and there are larger shelves upstairs heaving under the weight of unread books.  I had a really good look at the titles recently and found so many great books I didn’t know we owned or had forgotten we had.  I came across 3/4 of David Peace’s Red Riding quartet.  Having mentioned we were missing the 1st one, Mr FH came home with it the next day from the Oxfam shop.  I’ve only ever seen the BBC adaptation, but want to give them a go, despite Mr FH’s warning about how harsh they are.  We’ve got a couple of Jon McGregor books I’ve never looked at. We have almost a full complement of Haruki Murakami and Cormac McCarthy but I’ve barely scratched the surface.  IMG_3684There’s at least three Kate Atkinson books I’ve meant to read for a while, plus one by Louise Welsh.

You get the picture…I want to read stuff I already own.  There will be times when I have to or want to read something I don’t already have so will borrow from the library or buy it second-hand.  I almost always refuse to buy hardback books, they are far too expensive, but there will be times when I have to buy a brand new book, then I will try to use my local book shop.  Or, if I’m really lucky, maybe a couple of small publishing houses might send me the odd book to read!

I am still stubbornly resisting an e-reader.  I think one of those will only make my problem of unread books much worse.  Nothing wrong with the printed version, it’s worked fine for years.


I noticed last year how few books I read by women and challenged myself to read more.  I still only managed to read seven post 1950 titles by women.  This year I want the male/female split to be a bit more even, so I need to make a concerted effort on that front.

At the back-end of 2012 I got a lot of pleasure from reading translated fiction, so I want to try to introduce a few more non-english titles to my bedside table this year and maybe review one a month.


I don’t want to get too hung up on joining loads of shared reading/blogging events, but they are a great way of getting to know other bloggers and reading something different.  I am already committed to “January in Japan” (more on that to come soon), and will take part in German Literature Month again later in the year.  Of course, joining these blogging events will help with introducing more variety into my reading material.

Reading around my area

Last year I started a little series on my blog called “Reading Around my Area“. Primarily, I wanted to look at how authors who lived local to me used the landscape in their work or how it may have influenced them or inspired them.  It became a bit less focused than that.  I only featured one writer last year, Arthur Conan Doyle but I’ve already promised to feature Aldous Huxley next and then I’ll see if I can manage to write about anyone else.  It takes quite a bit of research and reading, but is really rewarding, making me feel a little more knowledgable about my local area.

That’s it then, nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing and of course most of it is subject to me fulfilling my personal resolution of finding a job, because once/if that happens I suspect reading won’t suffer but blogging might.  I’ll have to wait and see what this year brings.

Thanks to everyone who regularly visits and continues to read my drivel and sometimes even comment on it.  I look forward to bumping into you again on these pages and hearing your thoughts on books and reading.  Happy 2013!

My watery and “I Capture the Castle” type weekend

We’ve just spent the weekend away in Dartmoor.  The main purpose of the visit was for Mr FH to take part in the sort of  life-affirming event that only a forty-year old can.  We were lucky enough for this event to take place close to some old friends who have settled on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park.  Our friends are a successful painter and a writer/internet marketing expert and this place provides them with the haven they need to be creative and take part in the outdoor lifestyle they so love.

If you’ve ever been to that part of the world you will know the roads are narrow, windy and often steep.  The house they rent is a vast, old, Hardy-esque stone farmhouse with views over the valley and the beginnings of the moor in the background – stunning.  It is surrounded by derelict outbuildings and stores, few of which are in use and mainly provide lodgings for local wildlife (we saw a barn-owl!).  The over-grown kitchen-garden has been converted into a small vegetable patch, pig pen and chicken coop.  Our children loved going out to feed and pet the animals, an experience a world away from what they are used to!  Inside, the farmhouse has large rooms, long dark halls, thick curtains hanging over door-ways to keep out the cold.   The enormous kitchen is dominated by the Aga, there are basic, thrown together units and shelving, plumbing open to the eye, all a bit shabby but so welcoming, comfortable and right for its situation that its shabbiness becomes its charm.  There were several bikes in the hall, one blocking the entrance to my friend’s huge study/library, where books are stacked neatly in handmade shelves and piled on almost every part of the large desk, leaving a small space for working on.  Walking, riding and welly boots scatter the corridors.  The house is cold and with the first bite of autumn in the air we spent the weekend in the kitchen where the Aga warmed us, wearing a couple of layers.  It was a fabulous weekend.  As soon as I walked through the kitchen door on Friday evening, I had a feeling I might see Cassandra curled up on the window seat, pen and notebook in hand.  It was a weekend of living like the Mortmains and I loved it!

Seeing and spending time with our friends was a lovely aside to our real reason for being there.  On Saturday Mr FH took part in a 10k swim along the river Dart from Totnes to Dittisham, where the Dart widens before curving round the headland to become the estuary mouth.  Swimming 10k is the equivalent of running a marathon, but in quite rough conditions.  This swim was the culmination of months of hard work and training.  It was great to see him so up for the swim on Saturday and we were so excited and proud to watch him emerge from the water about 2 and a half hours later, that I forgot to take any pictures!  To find out yesterday that he was in the top 17% of swimmers that finished (651 finished), makes us even prouder of what he achieved (he also raised a lot of money for his chosen charity).  Although I am particularly in awe of  Mr FH, I am blown away by all the swimmers who took part for their determination to push their bodies to the extreme.  The water was cold, current quite strong, the wetsuit chaffed and it took him 10 minutes to stop shaking with the cold, but he had a smile on his face.  Watching him at that moment, I was reminded of a line in Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running  “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”  Well done, darling!

Pictures courtesy of the Open Water Swimming Society website