Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami

Title: "Kafka on the Shore"
Author: Haruki Murakami
Pages: 489
Genre: Contemporary Literary, Surrealism
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Publisher: Vintage

Why Pick it Up: An entry for the Japanese Reading Challenge 3 and have seen it recommended at least 100 times, so there was no way I was going to miss reading this book.


If “After Dark” was simply an appetizer of what Murakami has to offer, then “Kafka on the Shore” is a five course meal. If the first was a picture spied from a keyhole, then the second is a majestic view from a plane. If the first is the gentle lick of the shore waves, then the second is the full blown force of a tsunami. Analogies and comparisons aside you get the drift that “Kafka on the Shore” is one powerhouse of a novel and the best definition for it can be one of the books that you have to read several times in your life to understand better and even then you couldn’t possibly piece everything together to unravel its true meaning.

“Kafka on the Shore” starts innocently enough tracking the lives of Kafka Tamura, who has to be the toughest 15 year old kid in order to make it through life as a runaway from home, and Mister Nakata, an old man isolated from society because of his inability to learn and grasp concepts. Even at its beginning the novel kisses reality goodbye and submerged the reader into surrealism, when Mr. Nakata has his first conversation with a cat, a talent he had since he was a little child. From then everything and anything seems possible and logical as the paths both protagonists tread one entwine, morph and blossom into a scenic illusion that seems only possible in the dream world.

Murakami is a genius at passing the surrealistic as the general rule in the world and this has to do much with the craftsmanship he has over characterization, achieved both by superb author narration, introspective character POV and erudite dialogue. The end result is a cast, which is rich, unusual and captivating.

Mr. Nakata is the simple man with poor mental faculties, but chosen by fate to fulfill something that must be done. His soul is exposed as that of simplicity in life, not constricted by manmade civilization and yet it is enveloped in such mystery and it is even hinted that he is capable of miracles such as making fish and slugs rain from the skies. He is on a journey, but the he doesn’t search for the road for the road finds him. Kafka as the other prime character is equally exotic in his inner world. He’s a hermit of his own device and is running away from the family curse put on by his father, which in the end he fulfills as a way to be over with it and set himself free.

Of course there is Miss Saeki, the quiet librarian, who has already died inside, but could have been so much more as her past reveals. I also grew to love Oshima, the gay man trapped in the body of woman, who is erudite and almost a human equivalent of the kitsune in his cunning and sharp mind.

But it’s not just characters that stole my breath away, but the way Murakami has referenced to other famous works and incorporated and reincarnated ageless tropes. Impossible love? Yes and how more impossible can it be when the woman you love is the spirit of a memory that has passed decades ago. Soul searching and becoming one with nature? Yes this trope has never been so literal, beautiful and surrealistic before. There is so much more. Mr. Nakata’s journey reminds me so much of Don Quixote, although it’s not exactly the same and Kafka’s curse is the myth of Oedipus, represented in the most impossible way imaginable.

“Kafka on the Shore” is a novel that deserves many re-reads for another reason as well. It’s a culture bomb. Murakami is an erudite man with a broad personal culture, which seems to have the whole swallowed inside, because there have been so many musicians, artists, writers and other historical figures mentioned that even a high brow aristocrat would need some research to learn about and then understand how these names subtly influence the story and add hues that might only come in light of both research and rereading.


Bellezza said...

Don't you love his symbolism? I loved that Johnny Walker stood for his alcoholic father, and I think that Colonel Sanders in some way repreented God. (At least I thought that's what Murakami was pointing too, him all dressed in white, and solving every one's woes.) I'm still unclear on a few points, even though I've read it twice. For example, what the heck was that eel thing coming out of his mouth at the end? Weird! I loved the old man, forget his name just now, and I remember reading that Haruki loved that character best as well. I loved the cats, too, which seem to have no symbolism at all other than Haruki loves cats. Sometimes, it's easy to read too much into something, and the deeper level just isn't there. For me, it's a bit tricky to figure out what Haruki is eluding to, if anything, or if he's just telling a wonderful story. I'm so glad that you read two of his works, which happened to be the same I read, and in the same order. Are you a fan now?

Harry Markov said...

Bellezza: You are wrong about the cats though, dear. They are highly symbolic in Japanese mythology. It's why they have Hello Kitty. They are spirit cats with control over the spirits of the dead and mind control and what not. There are quite a few myths about cats.

And yes, I am a fan. :)

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