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An odd adventure that leaves you perplexed
on December 18, 2009
"The world is a metaphor..." (465)
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is a difficult novel to understand, and the ending is not detailed. This is one of those novels that Murakami suggested should be read more than once to fully comprehend.
I thoroughly enjoyed the references to Greek tragedies and philosophy. And the translation of his prose was magnificent. As always, it seemed as though you were reading poetry because the words fit so well together.
The story itself seems to be inspired by Greek tragedy, mainly Oedipus Rex. Nothing was told about how the oedipal prophecy came to be, but with the hints given through out the narrative, and with the aide of Johnnie Walker, one can suspect the origins. I believe that this is a story about fate, and how it has the power to bring people together.
If you do not like the story, than at least you can appreciate the ingenious way the story is plotted and the way that the characters' dialogues were crafted. Through some of the dialogues, it seems as though Murakami is trying to let the world know about his tastes in music and literature. The journey of the characters is quite an adventure, that when looked back it, seems odd yet remarkable. The most interesting character, I found, was Oshima, the one with who Kafka had intellectual conversations with regarding literature and told many of his theories to.
"Waves of consciousness roll in, roll out, leave some writing, and just as quickly new waves roll in and erase it. I try to quickly read what's written there, between one wave and the next, but it's hard. Before I can read it the next wave's washed it away. All that's left are puzzling fragments." This seems to be what the title and the story are about. Kafka goes into the world of his conscious and subconscious mind, but can never fully put into words what he learns from the experience. Thus, you must attempt to decipher it yourself. Near the end, we learn that the other world that the characters experienced was in fact the same place.
Like Murakami's `Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,' this novel consists of two stories running parallel to one another. The odd numbered chapters are of Kafka, which are written in first-person and in present tense, and the even numbered chapters are about Nakata, which are written in third-person in past tense.
Throughout the entire story, Murakami tries to demonstrate that "Things outside you are projections of what's inside you, and what's inside you is a projection of what's outside." (352) Oshima says that human intestines were the prototype of a labyrinth for the ancient Mesopotamians. "So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you're stepping into the labyrinth inside." (352) With this in mind, you will notice that throughout the story, dreams are as real as reality.
Read the prologue after completing the novel.
Kafka Tamura, in the beginning, is seen talking to "the boy named Crow," which seems to be in inner voice, about running away on his fifteenth birthday. And he does run away, from his father, from the terrible prophecy that his father used to mention to Kafka, telling him that there was no way he could avoid it. Kafka was prophesied to kill his father, and be with his mother and sister.
Kafka finally understood what the prophecy meant when he was older. However, his mother had taken left him when he was a child, taking his sister with her, and he could not remember how the two looked like.
Kafka goes on an odd adventure, where he meets Sakura, who he suspects to be his sister. And visits a private library, where he meets distinct characters, such as Oshima, the desk clerk who Kafka often asks for advice, and Miss Seiki, the head of the library, who seems to be living in the past. Kafka even stays in a cabin surrounded by a forest alone, reflecting on his life. Can Kafka escape the prophecy and change his fate? Or, like in Oedipus Rex, is fate's tug too strong for a mortal man?
In the concurrent story, Satoru Nakata, an old man, who when he was a child had lost his memory in odd circumstances. He lives alone, he is illiterate, but he can talk to cats. Cats, we learn, do not remember things as humans do because they have no sense of time. And like cats, Nakata lives in the present and accepts things as they are.
While searching for a cat that someone asked him to, Nakata goes on an unexpected adventure, meeting the cat killer, Johnnie Walker, and is led by fate to where he must go. Where he must go is what he does not know until the time comes. What mission much Nakata accomplish? Why does he only have half a shadow - a shadow that is lighter than a regular person's? Will an illiterate man be successful in accomplishing his mission?
"Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear." (138)
"There's only one kind of happiness, but misfortune comes in all shapes and sizes. It's like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story." (157)
"`The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.'" (273, quoted from Henri Bergson's Matter and Memory)
"`At the same time that `I' am the content of a relation, `I' am also that which does the relating.'" (274, quoted from Hegel)
"But beyond any of those details of the real, there are dreams. And everyone's living in them." (300)