South of the Border, West of the Sun
Hajime, an only child, was growing up in the suburbs of post-war Japan when families with one child were easily numbered. Besides such children being low in number, they were generally viewed quite negatively by the people around them, thanks to people who continuously strove to let the stereotypes, for instance, children with no siblings grow up selfish, sustain. Shimamoto being an only child and having a similar taste of music as Hajime's became a good friend of his. Better say his only friend.
With the passage of time, came the phase of joining high school, which results in them being detached from each other. Not long after Shimamoto, who happened to be Hajime's significant other as well, leaves, Hajime gets involved with somebody else. After breaking up from a serious relationship that budded during college life, and multiple casual relationships, he finally ends up with Yukiko. They, eventually, get blessed with 2 beautiful daughters. Hajime, now in his thirties, after more than a decade, happens to bump into Shimamoto at a party. That abrupt encounter reinvigorates bewilderment in Hajime's life and revives the enthusiasm which couldn't fully flourish before due to the chain of events creating distance between them.
Not even by random co-incidence did they run into each other. That, consequently, leaves a spacious room for new conversation between two long-lost friends, who were more than friends at a certain juncture. The resurrection of this genre of infatuation, at this a point of Hajime's life (the life with a wife and two children who are undeniable) when prioritizing such feelings generally seem abnormal, is specifically - socially unacceptable. The story keeps pen-picturing the incidences happening as an aftermath of the anomaly.
The only point about the book which kept me hooked until reaching the last word of it - easy to guess if you've already read other works of Murakami - is the writing style. Murakami's simple words (credit goes to the translator), expressive sentences and slightly digressive yet not obstructive of the flow anecdotes make it easy for readers to continue. But as far as the storyline is concerned, I can't say I liked it. The author is surely commendable given the fact that he successfully compelled me to read up to the last dot of the book and for that his way of penning a story deserves appreciation.
Also, if you're planning to pick this up, keep in mind that Murakami does not portray 'the' Japanese culture or people conforming to the stereotypical cultural Japanese traits.
Don't read the part ahead if you do not want spoilers. The characteristics of Hajime that portrayed in multiple ways throughout the book are very problematic if considered for normalization. For example, the fact that he cheated on his wife (not to me but to many people cheating feels more disgusting provided that the person has got children. Nevertheless, cheating is not an impulsive decision. To be contextually specific here, it was anything but impulse in the case of Hajime.)
He could have confessed to the wife of his long-lost love which he didn't. For quite a long period, he kept seeing Shimamoto (evidence: unnecessarily long delineation of Shimamoto's current life and all the changes she had gone through and integration of random conversations skipping which wouldn't have affected the flow of the story in any way) and he found cheating easier than confessing to his wife. Guilt never seemed to touch him given having sex with his 'first love' seemed right. No wonder, unlike typical Japanese people, he bothered not to think about his marital status. Moreover, the toxic-masculinity displayed here has resulted from his individual human aspiration, not from patriarchal society.
I found the sudden introduction of the character Izumi, and all the people related to her, very unnecessary. If the purpose of this character was to create a climax at the end of the story, then it could have been executed just as well through the sudden appearance of Yukiko. Hajime, for whom polygamy isn't an option, throughout the entire book has been portrayed as a confused, egoistic and blind in love. In my opinion, his sudden realization influencing him to stick to the person he is married to could very easily be structured without introducing unnecessary characters.
Overall, I loved reading it but not the story and therefore, wouldn't consider rereading or recommending anyone.