cover image South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun

Haruki Murakami. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40251-7

Lost loves and passionate mistakes haunt the successful but aimless man who tells his life story in this oddly gripping, often dreamlike tale. Growing up in the suburbs of post-WWII Japan, where families of two or three children are the rule, Hajime feels that as an only child he is marked--perhaps accurately--as ""spoiled, weak and self-centered."" His only real friend is smart, pretty Shimamoto, also an only child, who's further set apart from other children by her polio-damaged leg. The two form a deep bond, but life separates them when they are preadolescents, after which Hajime feels that he exists in a void. Some 25 years later, they meet again. Hajime is now a successful nightclub owner, happily married with two children, but he is tempted to throw it all away for Shimamoto, who hints at the unhappy mystery of her life and at dark secrets she will not share with him. Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) writes economically in the voice of Hajime, sketching outlines of events to be filled in by the reader's imagination. The narrative unfolds as an introspective ghost story in which Hajime must exorcise his past in the person of the enigmatic Shimamoto before he can affirm the new direction of his life. The ending, at once tender and hopeful, shows Murakami in a more mellow aspect than his work has exhibited before. (Feb.)