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Fiction

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

kafka on the shoreKafka (not his real name, Czech for Crow) Tamura is a 15-year-old runaway. Conversing with a boy who named Crow occasionally, he finds his way south to Shikoku and arrived in a town call Takamatsu and work in Komura Library. There he met Oshima, employee of the library and Miss. Saeki, who manages the library, and a ghost of a living person at a little room he lives in. Oshima is androgynous, loyal to Ms Saeki grew up and fell in love with the eldest son of the Komura family, but he was killed in a senseless war at 20, from then on she disappeared for many years before she came back and manage the library. Miss. Saeki used to be a record selling artist, a one-trick pony on the song “Kafka on the Shore”, a song of yearning for a lover faraway.

Miss Saeki’s life basically stopped at 20 when her lover died. The hands of the clock buried inside her soul ground to a halt then. Time outside, of course, flows on as always, but she isn’t affected by it. For her, what we consider normal time is essentially meaningless. “Kafka, in everybody’s life there’s a there’s a point of no return. And in a few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive”

Sometimes Kafka is sent away by Oshima to stay in a cabin in the middle of the forest, living in bare minimum and all he had to do was sunbathing and reading for his days in the forest. 

One day Kafka fell unconscious near a shrine and when he woke up, his T-shirt was covered with blood and have no idea where he got that from. But he had to see Sakura (who would like to be Kafka’s sister) to help clean himself up and Sakura ended up giving “more help” than Kafka would have asked for. 

Meanwhile Mr. Nakata claims disabled benefit and talks to cats in his free time. After the strange incident in the hills of Yamanashi, where 13 school children collapse and became unconscious, with Mr. Nakata the last to recover from coma for three weeks. When he woke up he lost his ability to read and write, and all the knowledge he acquired as a straight A’s student. He never regain his ability to read and write and spent the rest of his life as an illiterate. Because he could talk to cats, he became a cat finder. Tracing missing cats in the neighbourhood. This led to an encounter with Johnnie Walker who has a penchant for using torturous device to kill cats. Ever since the encounter Johnnie Walker, Mr. Nakata lost his ability to talk to cats and is on the run, moving towards Shikoku, he met kind Hoshina, a truck driver. Hoshina subsequently bumped into Colonel Sanders (not real, but takes a form of KFC’s mascot founder) and help Mr. Nakata to uncover the entrance stone. 

It turns out that Johnnie Walker a.k.a. Koichi Tamura, a sculptor, is Kafka’s estranged father and is murdered. This is followed by strange weather events such as tuna fish falling from the sky and leeches as well, as a result of Mr. Nakata weather prediction and opening his umbrella that triggers all these strange incidents to happen. Kafka had a strong alibi for not being at the scene of his father’s murder, but he had to be on the run again when suspicion of him conspiring with an alliance led to his father’s murder – i.e. dreams comes responsibility. 

In the tradition of Murakami, you expect these two disparate events and parallel odysseys of Kafka and Mr. Nakata to converge at some point. They were both seeking. Kafka looking for his mother and sister that he never know. Mr. Nakata feeling empty most of his life, a container with nothing inside, with a pale shadow, his only wish is to be normal. 

“From my own experience, when someone is trying very hard to get something, they don’t. And when they’re running away from something as hard as they can, it usually catches up with them. I’m generalising of course.” said Oshima.
“If you generalise about me, then what’s in my future? If I’m seeking and running at the same time.”
“That’s a tough one….” Oshima says, and smiles. A moment passes before he goes on. “If you had to say anything it’s would be this: whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.” 

I was moved by the tribulations of Mr. Nakata. How he was so brilliant as a child and lost his ability to read on that fateful day, how he lost his money, how he supports himself, how he lives as an outcast and how he is alone in this world and trying to make it the best he can. I am encouraged by what Oshima (he is the wise one, come to think of it) said: 

“Listen, Kafka. What you’re experiencing now is the motif of many Greek tragedies. Man doesn’t choose fate. Fate chooses man. That’s the basic world view of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues. Oedipus is drawn into tragedy not because of laziness or stupidity, but because of his courage and honesty. So an inevitable irony results.”
“But it’s a hopeless situation.” said Kafka.

“That depends”, Oshima says. “Sometimes it is. But irony deepens a person, helps them to mature. It’s the entrance to salvation on a higher plane, to a place where you can find a more universal kind of hope. In other words, we accept irony through a device called metaphor. And through that we grow and become deeper human beings.” 

The entrance stones seems to be an entrance to a glimpse of heaven or a realm where people don’t grow old, no memories, not many books… but the entrance had to be sealed, before an evil creature tries to enter it. Hoshina seems to be the best person to do that.

Murakami’s books are like Alice in Wonderland or through the looking glass. It’s about Greek mythology, about the subconscious, about Classical music, about gruesome murder, about the supernatural, about fate and about life. You don’t question the logic, but you reflect on the metaphor that is conveyed. I find this one a disturbing read (more than Wind-up Bird Chronicle), but nonetheless rewarding. I wouldn’t want to recommend this to anyone I know personally (it’s an acquired taste and also for fear of getting a funny look! Therefore I’m rating it a 3) but to anyone I don’t know, do read it. :) A book that alters mind and creates havoc to the psyche.


Verdict: 3/5
What I like most about the book: The book is an easy read, Murakami writes in fluidity that made 505-page read delightful and not cumbersome. He has the ability to stop me on the track (on some of my favourite lines) and I think that Murakami understands me. For that and that only, I am willing to put up with his silly nonsense (or poetry like some people would call it) of leeches and fishes falling from the sky! The ending is hopeful.
What I like most about the book: This book deals with the utmost taboo and perverted subject (nope, not entirely about sex), that at times it disgusts me. The last part of the book gets a bit too weird for me.


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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

  1. This was the book that started my whole journey with Murakami, He’s taken me to some strange places, but has always left me with my thought processes retuned.

    Posted by Parrish | January 1, 2011, 3:35 pm
    • Parrish, I started with The Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world. It blew me away and mess up my head big time! lol :D I can’t take surrealism too far, so I appreciate more of Murakami’s romance story. They are more grounded and explore more human emotions.

      Posted by JoV | January 1, 2011, 10:17 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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