Posted on | July 9, 2010 | 15 Comments
Surrealism. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s the only word that can be used to describe Murakami’s books. Kafka on the Shore is no exception. Leeches and fish rain down, there’s a character called Johnnie Walker, and another called Colonel Saunders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame), a mysterious childhood “accident” results in one of the characters being able to speak to cats, and there’s a portal to a parallel universe.
The book follows two characters in interleaving chapters: Fifteen year old runaway, Kafka Tamura and Nakata, an elderly man who is considered “dumb” by most as he is unable to read or write. While neither of them are aware of the other’s existence, there’s a greater (almost supernatural) force that connects them.
Kafka ran away from home, after this father had cursed him with the Oedipus prophecy: that he would kill his father, and sleep with his mother and sister. His mother and sister had left home when he was merely four years old, and he has no recollection of them whatsoever. He figures he just has to be the toughest fifteen year old boy. Or, so “a boy called Crow” tells him.
And I bet the longer I live, the emptier, the more worthless, I’ll become. Something’s wrong with this picture. Life isn’t supposed to turn out like this! Isn’t it possible to shift direction, to change where I’m headed?”
Then there’s Nakata, who fell unconscious after a bizarre attack while he was still at school. This so-called “attack” left sixteen children unconscious, but when they came to, their memories and intelligence was left intact. They simply had no recollection of the event itself. Nakata, however, lost all his intelligence, and his ability to read or write. Instead, he was bestowed with the ability to talk to cats, which led to him earning a little money by finding lost cats, in addition to the government “sub city” (subsidy) he received.
Kafka runs away to Takamatsu in Shikoku, and starts working in a small private library. He befriends the librarian, Oshima, as well as gets closer to the beautiful albeit melancholy Ms. Saeki, the manager – a lady who still mourns the demise of her long lost love, who was killed about thirty years previously.
Nakata, on the other hand, runs into a dangerous man, Johnnie Walker, in Kafka’s hometown, who is kidnapping cats, and then killing them brutally in order to make a flute of their souls. In order to save the cats, Nakata ends up killing the man and then following his “fate” – he doesn’t know what it is, but he’ll know it when he sees it.
This was an obscure novel, which on finishing, I had more questions than answers. Who is “the boy named crow”? Did Kafka succumb to his fate, or did he manage to avoid it? Can ghosts of living people exist? Can ghosts of people’s past exist? What connected the two characters? And, what actually happened to Nakata in his childhood, that left him bereft of his intelligence?
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this book, as I do most Murakamis. And, I would recommend it. Just remember, if and when you read it, it’ll be a hell of a ride, and you’ll be second guessing everything right till the last page – and beyond. While some bits were tedious to read, all in all, the characters and the surrealism made it a must-read for me.
Note: Kafka on the Shore is the first Murakami I ever had on my shelf. It was given to me as a present sometime in 2008, and I kept “saving it” for the right occasion. I planned on reading it when I went on holiday to Barbados last year, as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 hosted by Bellezza last year, and a couple of other times as well. Finally read it about a year later, while the Japanese Literature Challenge 4 is being held. Have been meaning to write a post about the challenge itself for awhile, but kept getting sidetracked. Apologies.
Anyway, head over to Bellezza’s, to find more reviews of Japanese Literature, and to see what everyone else is reading. Hope to see some of your reviews around as well. :)