Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Everything is metaphor. Nothing is metaphor. Metaphor is reality. Murakami takes the reader on a surreal trip that will leave you breathless while also leaving you to wonder what you missed.

Kafka on the Shore is, in part, a quest. Fifteen year old Kafka Tamura runs from home in order to pursue his past, to find his mother and sister who haven't been seen since he was a little boy, and to find out who he is apart from his father. His quest begins as he seeks for answers to his past, but at some point in the journey he realizes the futility of this and turns to pursue his future instead. The story alternates between Kafka and an elderly gentleman by the name of Mr. Nakata. Nakata wants to find the half of himself that was lost when he was a young boy during World War II. A mysterious event left Nakata unable to read, and in his own words, "not very bright." As he journeys, Nakata is not sure where he is going or what he is looking for, but intuits that he will know it when he sees it.

The mysterious event of World War II, which took a part of Mr. Nakata, remains a blurry element of the novel. It is never looked at directly, but is something that is seen in the "peripheral vision" and is similar to those things that, in the darkness, are better seen when looked at indirectly. Mr. Nakata can not remember what happened and suffers an amnesia that might be metaphor for a national amnesia surrounding the events of World War II. I am aware of the concept of national amnesia, but am hardly an expert in this area and so will leave this thought to be pursued by those better qualified.

Murakami is known for his use of magical realism, and Kafka on the Shore has plenty of opportunity for the reader to suspend his or her disbelief. Talking cats, fish raining from the sky, and appearances by Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders should not surprise Murakami's readers. If this isn't enough to confuse many of us, Murakami also takes occasional jaunts into the metaphysical realm.

The novel is often confusing and requires the reader to simply follow where Murakami leads. The ending is ambiguous, but somehow the book makes sense without a coherent resolution. Murakami has written a novel that is hopeful and speaks of the human capacity to go forward and reach for that "brand-new world" that is constantly before us.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

7 comments:

Bellezza said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, Terri. It is such a complicated novel to fully grasp (for me), but I agree with you that it leaves us hopeful at the end. I always wonder if Mr. Nakata is not the boy who suffered the trauma with the teacher on the outing to the mountains; her treatment of him/the bombing left him "not quite right". What do you think?

Terri B. said...

This is one book that can tolerate more than one reading! It was complicated and I feel like I missed a lot. I think that the child on the mountain was indeed Mr. Nakata. I think that perhaps the entire episode could be looked at metaphorically (probably in more than one way too!), and might represent a more national trauma including the desire to "look away" from what is considered a shameful event. For me to go any further with this thought, I'd have to read the book again and do some serious research.

I love reading Murakami even though he confuses me! I always have that feeling of needing to look at his work "sideways" in order to see it more clearly.

The Holistic Knitter said...

I must read this sometime ;0)

Mr. Bear said...

This is definitely one of those books that merits reading multiple times. But it is massive, next only to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, so it might be difficult for some to get around to the re-reading. This book-actually much of Murakami's work-has been criticized for being too open ended, with many loose string left untied. People tend to either love that or hate it about Murakami, but it is certainly deliberate. Not surprisingly, Murakami himself encourages people to read his books many times (and probably would love it if people bought a new copy every time they did so). But this is one of those books that is actually worth the time and effort.

Princess Haiku said...

I loved this book and enjoyed your review.

Princess Haiku said...

I loved this book and enjoyed your review.

Terri B. said...

Holistic Knitter: I hope you do read it. More people to discuss it with :o)

Mr. Bear: I've been staring at Wind-up Bird and noting its rather large size. Eventually I'll read it!

Princess Haiku: I'm glad you liked it too! Thank you for the lovely words.