Hajime (which means "beginning") was born in 1951. An unusual only child and a loner in elementary school, he gravitated to Shimamoto, a girl with a bad leg and a limp from polio. They became very close friends but circumstances separated them at age 12. Hajime drifts through relationships and a boring editing job in his 20s, then marries Yukiko and opens a pair of jazz bars with the financial backing of her contractor father. He has a good life -- plenty of money and two small daughters -- when Shimamoto drifts mysteriously back into his life: gorgeous, wealthy, and nearly whole following surgery. Both torn by deep passion and wanting to do the right thing, Hajime and Shimamoto dance delicately around their past, their tender feelings, her secrets, his emotional inaccessibility. In contrast to his trickier, complexly plotted novels (e.g., _The Wild Sheep Chase_, _The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle_), this short Harukami tale -- first published in Japan in 1992 and translated into English in 1998 -- is deceptively simple on the surface, but has rich emotional depths. It's a wise and beautiful "romance novel" for thinking adults -- especially men! The title takes its first half from a Nat King Cole song, its second half from the phenomenon where Siberian farmers are driven mad by the endlessly flat arctic wastes and just start walking steadily west, abandoning their lives and farms -- symbolizing, perhaps, the poles between the grass-is-greener dreaming and aching boredom/hysteria of existence.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Hajime, a bar owner in Tokyo, recounts his life since his birth until the recent day he reunited with Shimamoto - his old sweetheart from elementary school, then a polio-stricken cripple. Frustrated at having been separated from her at an early age, he had been in multiple relationships broken by his own desires translated into selfishness. He seemed to finally find a stable married life with Yukiko, daughter of a rich industrialist, who gave him two daughters as well as dad's backing to open a bar. But now, with Shimamoto standing before him, no longer a cripple but transformed into a raving, alluring beauty, he must face the choice of staying with his current life or throwing it all away to achieve his lifelong dream of real love from the only woman he could trust...
The book describes many moving parts, including growing pains, psychological limitations, parenthood, and most importantly, the importance of both romantic love and sexual relations in the man-woman relationship. I recommend it.
This report prepared by Sergio Mendoza
The simple touching story of the loves of Hajime. Hajime an only child befriends another only child Shimamoto who has a lame leg. At the age of 12 they have an innocent love spent listening to records in Shimamoto's living room. Their love culminates when Shimamoto grabs Hajime's hand fleetingly for 10 seconds sparking a love that will last their entire lives. Unfortunately shortly afterwards Hajime moves away and they drift apart. The story continues with Hajime's tender adolescent relationship with Izumi who he ruins forever by having a passionate sexual affair with her older cousin behind her back. Hajime then limps through his twenties lonely and bored working in an educational publishers firm. Finally he meets and falls in love with Yukiko. They marry and together they have two small girls. Hajime becomes the successful owner of two jazz clubs. Into this idyllic life one day, 25 years after they last saw eachother, walks the beautiful and mysterious Shimamoto. Hajime is catapulted into the past risking all that he has built in the present. A beautiful thought provoking novel on the complexities of love.
This report prepared by John Marcel