Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Valerie’s review

This book stretched a hole in my consciousness into a time/place I wasn’t expecting. Was not disappointed even though it had built up in my mind… The book is split into sections, between the adventures of Nakata and Kafka.

At the beginning, Kafka runs away, chapters split between his life and back to WW2 government testimony. Some schoolchildren pass out in this magical clearing. That scene is so haunting, the way it’s presented so mysterious. Nakata, the only boy who didn’t wake up, became an idiot, basically losing all his learning to evolve into a bodhisattva type figure who speaks with cats. The 15-year-old, Kafka, is like this Nakata guy’s energetic polarity; something binds their stories.

The school teacher figure echoed in Miss Saeki, his motherfigure/lover, the bizarre female prodigy who once wrote a song called “Kafka on the Shore.” Her character is a big conundrum to me, one I can’t exactly personify or describe or unravel. Definitely an Oedipal theme going on, plus Kafka’s obsession that every strange girl could be his sister… Crow is a believable imaginary character/persona/ His presence set up the ability to reconcile all the impossible dreamlike fantasy elements that were completely unhinged from reality.

Hoshino represents the Id or something, clarified in life by spiritual purpose seen in the simplicity of Nakata.

Oshima is my favorite character, who I find very awesome, Murakami made this persona to be the most lovable. Or is it just me? Was I really supposed to admire Kafka most, whose urges toward violence I could never comprehend? Whereas Oshima is the greatest outcast, a transsexual female, gay, serene as Nakata yet who likes to speed and have anal sex…unphased by everything and sympathetic all around. Him telling off those weird feminists was a heroic/revealing transcendent moment.

The best parts to me had to do with the settings: outside of the cities, I mean, the Komura Memorial library and the mountains.

Some nice focus on the pleasure of reading. The Namesake also has a booklover in it, I think it’s funny reading about other writers fetishizing books.

Just paging through the book I feel so shitty about my own craptastic writing because all of these words are so singing, such control of language with evocation of mood that I’m gloomy at the immensity of his talent, which I admire and never could hope to encapsulate in words much less emulate.

The limbo of the forest at the end along with the entrance stone was a necessary plunge into surreality to accomplish Murakami’s storytelling path, but I could’ve lived with a book 1/3 shorter in length. Somewhere along the line bits of the story overlapped too much or began to become redundant, which was irritating because certain mysteries were never explained, in particular Kafka’s family situation.

Mike’s review

This writing definitely slopes. Seems worse on the first page. Does this disorient me and put me in the dream-like state the critics say this book is written in?

I’m sure this is going to keep coming up and there’s probably a reason behind it, but WTF is up with this pseudo incest? “I was thinking how nice it’d be if I was your real sister [while giving you a handjob].” “Me too.”

“We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds.”

Why do men think periods are so weird? Anytime something supernatural happens, some woman’s uterus is bleeding. Do female writers use this stupid symbol? I find it doubtful.

If one has no foresight/ability to imagine pain, would one be able to comprehend how working would affect receiving a government subsidy (subcity)?  I see a lack of knowledge of the future, of cause and effect there. I know it’s probably trite when dogs and cats can talk, but I can’t help it. If you’re going to make a character an idiot or some other affectation/characteristic then you’ve got to stick to it. (And Nakata imagines a cat’s pain soon after.)

But as it gets more ridiculous and rains fish, I’m sucked in.

I knew these stories were going to intersect, but holy shit! I’m stunned. Well done, sir.

“People don’t usually kill their father and sleep with their mother, right?” Shit, I see where this is headed. I’m not stopping though.

I feel like I make this note a lot, but it’s fucking crazy serendipitous how often what I’m reading has to do with what I’m writing. I start writing first, pick up a book (not knowing its content) and there are the themes I’m dealing with.

Standing in traffic line of San Francisco Superior Court is not the ideal reading space. usually, I fly through, absorbing bits into a whole. Now I’m re-reading a lot, forcing comprehension. How can the line be the same length as the other day, but move so much quicker? Please staff extra people when you know volume is higher San Francisco. (I hate you.)

Magical realism: Must be done nonchalantly. This is awesome. When suddenly a fucking unicorn appears and saves the day (I’m looking at you, few examples of Spanish lit I’ve read), it’s fucking stupid. Make your whole world magically mundane because that’s how our world is (I may have recently transferred worlds. Saw shifts in bathroom rug other night. Nice to meet you, New World).

“People are mostly a product of where they were born and raised. How you think and feel’s always linked to the lay of the land, the temperature. The prevailing winds even.”

Wonder if the small idiosyncratic dialogue bits were in original Japanese. “There’re,” apostrophying is into a word, things which aren’t wrong but can be a bit clunky to read (noticed well before now, but only saying so now. Tried not to be harpy about it).

Who’s head are they in? Miss Saeki’s? I think so.

Last line: “You are part of a brand-new world.” Crazy, considering my earlier note/world jump. Also, this is a great last line, the sort of last line I try to write (and fail at). Can stand on its own, outside the story. Positive, affirming and kinda overwhelmingly scary. Like “The world is alive.” Not an action, but a fact. “The world became brand-new” would be less effective.

Mike responds to Valerie’s review, finally

I did not find myself loving/relating to Oshima, though I can’t say I found myself exactly relating to Kafka either. But I don’t find relating is necessary either. (Don’t do it in life, don’t expect it in fiction.) I think saying Kafka has urges toward violence is off. Urge implies a bit of consciousness, which there isn’t here. I’d say more like compelled, as though it’s out of his control, which is more something I can relate to (what with the blackout drunks and then waking up and hearing about what I’ve done that I would normally not). And remember, all these people are looking for their other half (except Oshima, I suppose), so they’re supposed to be partial, incomplete.

I think I believe there are other worlds happening right now. I’m not sure about that. Maybe that there could be other worlds and each decision I make pushes me into a new world, so the dreamlike, unhinged from realityness seems perfectly believable and normal to me.

I did not find it too long at all. I don’t remember redundancy. Murakami definitely did a “how people actually talk” sort of thing. “This thing happened.” “Huh, really?” “Yes.” “You don’t say?” “I do say.” Or whenever Colonel Sanders showed up, it was a little overexplained.

Family situation: Something like, we are all each other’s mother. It’s been a while, but I think I believed Miss Saeki was Kafka’s mother in a physical sense, birthed so he could complete his old self and set the world right again.

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3 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

  1. Pingback: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami | The Heart of Literature

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