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West of the Sun

From Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun,
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, (The Harvill Press, 1999)


“West of the sun?”

“Have you heard of the illness hysteria siberiana?”.


“l read this somewhere a long time ago. Maybe in junior high. I can’t for the life of me recall what book I read it in. Anyway, it affects farmers living in Siberia. Try to imagine this. You’re a farmer, living all alone on the Siberian tundra. Day after day you plough your fields. As far as the eye can see, nothing. To the north, the horizon, to the east, the horizon, to the south, to the west, more of the same. Every morning, when the sun rises in the east, you go out to work in your fields. When it’s directly overhead, you take a break for lunch. When it sinks, in the west, you go home to sleep.”

“Not exactly the lifestyle of an Aoyama bar owner.”

“Hardly!” She smiled and inclined her head ever so slightly. “Anyway, that cycle continues, year after year.”

“But in Siberia they don’t work in the fields in winter.”

“They rest in the winter,” she said. “In the winter they stay at home and do indoor work. When spring comes, they go out into the fields again. You’re that farmer. Imagine it.”

“OK,” I said.

“And then something inside you dies.”

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. Something. Day after day you watch the sun rise in the east, pass across the sky, then sink in the west, and something breaks inside you and dies. You throw your plough aside and, your head completely empty of thought, you begin walking toward the west. Heading toward a land that lies west of the sun. Like someone possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die. That’s hysteria siberiana.”

I tried to conjure up the picture of a Siberian farmer lying dead on the ground.

“But what is there, west of the sun?” I asked.

She shook her head again. “I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Or maybe something."