“I always feel as if I’m struggling to become someone else. As if I’m trying to find a new place, grab hold of a new life, a new personality. I suppose it’s part of growing up, yet it’s also an attempt to reinvent myself. By becoming a different me, I could free myself of everything. I seriously believed I could escape myself – as long as I made the effort. But I always hit a dead end. No matter where I go, I still end up me. What’s missing never changes. The scenery may change, but I’m still the same old incomplete person. The same missing elements torture with a hunger that I can never satisfy….for your sake I’d like to become a new person.”
Have you ever had a romantic relationship that stuck with you long after you should had moved on? What happens when we think we are far over it ,only to crumple down like a brick of walls, when we see them again? What happens then? Do we still feel the same nervousness in our gut or is it just acceptance? What happens when you see them years later under the most unexpected circumstances? What happens when the both of you’ll have moved on with no bitter feelings, and yet you bump into them decades later? Is it just a friendly hello that echoes of nostalgia or is it a flame that craves to reignite? Are there soul-mates? Do each one of us end up with our soulmates? What happens when you know they are the one but destiny has it otherwise? What happens when you know every nerve in your body longs for them but you are simply not meant to be? What happens when we claim to move on as what society expects from us but it is them that we think of at 3am as insomnia overpowers us and the only thing we want to escape from, are our own thoughts. What happens when two lovers part ways? How long can you hold onto the idea of them? We might move on and find a partner but what happens about that inexplicable connection that you once shared with someone, who shall no longer be named? Do we let these thoughts overpower us or just put them at some corner in your mind visiting them back from time to time? Or would you rather leave it all at 50 only to be with them once again knowing life is short and the most alive you have felt were those moments that you spent with them?
Murakami in South of the border west of the sun, weaves a gripping tale of love, loss, death and how each decision one makes can majorly impact your life, only to make you rethink about your very existence itself.
The protagonist Hajime has a childhood sweetheart called Shimamoto who eventually shifts to another town only to revisit years later. Is there not something about some people that tends to leave a long lasting effect on us that never really seems to leave? An impression so strong that no matter what, a part of you will always find solace in them. A part of you that feels at home and calm in their presence. You might not necessarily end up with them but a part of you will always long for it.
Hajime’s first real girlfriend from high school was Izumi. When he first began dating Izumi, he promised he would not hurt her, although he realized that he did not feel as strongly for her as he did for Shimamoto.
Do we always end up comparing each one who enters our life with that one person who has had a significant impact on us? Are we doing justice to the next one, by going back in time only to compare them to our ideal version? Is not everyone different in their own way Looking back at that time, he narrates, ‘I didn’t understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover.” Is that what happens when we try to fall in love with someone or rather a rebound, only to realise that our heart truly belongs to someone else? Do we really seek solace in cheap Chinese takeaways and bottles of wine? Do we seek comfort in boxes of ashes only to turn us into one? Do we seek validation in the arms of others only to make us feel somewhat worthy? Do we let someone every inch close to us but nowhere near our soul? Is it that Shimamoto in our life who we keep going back to, in our thoughts, despite having Izuki wrapped in our incredibly cold arms?
Although Hajime cared for Izumi, he risked his relationship with her for a purely sexual two-month fling with her cousin. Yet again, making us question and introspect our life? How often do we make decisions that we might know may impact us majorly or the ones around us might get hurt? Do we still choose to consciously make those decisions? Is it out of vested interests or is it because we do what felt right in that moment? From loving Shimamoto who he parted ways with in early childhood, to loving Izuki, only to compare her with his childhood sweetheart, to cheating on Izuki with her cousin, do we really complicate our lives so much?
How do we sleep at night knowing this cycle shall never end? Are we so afraid to commit that we engage in meaningless flings, only to escape the burden of our very own thoughts? Life has its own surprising ways of working but how long can we hold onto the idea of someone? How long can we want them, despite knowing its eventually nothing more than just an idea we are not willing to give up? In the process of finding our Shimamoto again, do we end up losing out on all Izuki’s? How long can we hold onto hope and how rational is it?
It is years later that Hajime goes on to marry Yukiko, a plain girl for him. He has an unexplained magnetism, when he is 30 years old. Over the next six years, the two of them build a life together and start a family. Is it not important to finally settle down with someone that makes you feel at peace with yourself? On the contrary how justified is it to settle down because that’s what life, society and age expects out of you? So do we settle down with someone cause we really love them or is it because we are supposed to? How important is Love? Do we eventually fall in love with them or is it just a habit?
It is only years later, unexpectedly, that Shimamoto reappears in his life. Several times she appears, mysteriously engages him without telling him very much about herself, and then disappears again.
Have you ever wondered what it might be to have that long lost love back after decades right when you are searching for something to hold onto. A meaning rather. Hajime tells Shimamoto, ”Sometimes when I look at you, I feel like I’m gazing at a distant star…It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago. Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”
Is that what some bonds are? Simply knowing that they exist matters far more than just being with them? It is only towards the end that he decides to leave his life and children to be with Shimamoto. Maybe sometimes in life, there is no right or wrong, maybe it’s just about choosing what feels right or maybe we realise it’s nothing but a mistake, maybe it’s just about finding that out!
In the end of the book there is a scene where Hajime is desperately chasing Shimamoto (the bright future) but at the same time he is facing his first girlfriend with dead eyes (representing his unhappy, unsatisfactory past). As he is confronted with the miserable past and the bright future escaping from him permanently, he decides to live in the present from now on.
It is only when he leaves it all for her that he realises she is gone! Do we tend to leave all that we have for an idea that seems tempting only to leave us with nothing at all?
Hajime sits and stares at the sea, probably the only thing that represents Shimamotos child. Witnessing her as a gentle rain, reuniting with her child who has been carried to the sea, in death, he questions his life all over again! Maybe that’s what life is, we are so torn between the past and the future that we tend to neglect what we truly possess in this very moment.
As the last quote “Until someone came and lightly rested a hand on my shoulder, my thoughts were of the sea.” It is the same sea where Shimamoto decided to place the remains of her baby. That there’s no middle ground, either it’s South of the Border (where there are possibilities) or West of the Sun (Death). It’s realizing that having everything in your life is not enough, and it’s up to you if you’ll choose to go on with your life or end that feeling of being stuck. And sometimes, moving forward is not the best answer. Sometimes it is all about learning to be content with what you have and learning the art of acceptance. You certainly can’t seek happiness elsewhere when you can’t find it within you. Maybe sometimes the Shimamoto we are looking for is just a fragment of our imagination, maybe it’s just a part of us that we crave to find in others only to realise we have been looking in all the wrong places, when it exists right here within you, as you sit and stare at the wide ocean, all this while it’s been YOU.