Book Review | Kafka on the Shore (2002) by Haruki Murakami
Let’s just pretend that it hasn’t been around 4 months since I last updated. I have some plans for the blog in 2016, so hopefully it’ll makeup for the disgusting lack of discipline.
I’ve been somewhat productive in keeping up with reading, even though I can’t say that I’m particularly proud of a number of choices. Exhibit A.
What I am excited to share today is none other than Kafka on the Shore [contains possible spoilers], which is among Mr. Murakami’s most famous and well-received books. Ah yes, Haruku Murakami, one of the most visible authors in the world today. Mysterious, talented, enigma of modern literature, etc.
Yes, I’m indeed very late in jumping on the bandwagon; the reason being that I’ve always been reluctant to read translated books. I felt, and still feel, that there’s a certain sense of detachment from reading them since they’re not the author’s exact words; rather, it's a subjective interpretation based on the translator's understanding of the language.
Before this year, I had only read a collection of his short stories called Birthday Stories, but I eventually caved and bought Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage sometime during Summer. I bought it at the airport after throwing a massive fit because I’d forgotten my Kindle before a holiday, as I’m sure some can relate.
I really enjoyed the book, but didn’t feel a particular need to explore more of the author’s work until Kafta fell into my lap (or my friend dropped it in my lap, rather). And I’m so thankful that she did because I’m now looking forward to really making a dent in his collection.
For those unfamiliar with Murakami, I’ll start by describing a bit about his style and the themes he likes to explore before delving more into the book itself.
Although he’s not necessarily a verbose writer, Murakami is one that has a tendency to describe the minute and mundane, occasionally to the point where you’re taken out of the book because it feels slightly excessive. But this is primarily his way of allowing the reader to understand the character; for example, describing with stunning detail what the character is wearing every time she or he makes an appearance in order to reiterate the presence of a particular trait.
If you’re someone who cannot stand indistinguishable descriptions of seemingly irrelevant events, then his style may take getting used to. But the more you’re able to simply accept what he’s trying to do, then the book itself begins to make sense. Again, do keep in mind that his works are translated, so the pace, rhythm, and other literary devices are likely different when in it’s in Japanese. It’s a different language, after all.
In terms of plot, I’ve heard people say that his books are basically all the same. While I don’t agree with that statement per se, there are a number of themes that appear in his works. For instance, most of his books are categorized as Bildungsroman, possesses elements of fantasy, a sexually perverse or frustrated young man (followed by an awkward and morally questionable sexual encounter with a promiscuous young woman), unrequited love, and a dysfunctional family relations because, hey, those things are just a part of growing up, right?
Finally on to the book: I’ll start by saying that it definitely challenges the reader’s imagination, or their ability to expand their imagination, rather. The nonchalance of Murakami’s style of writing contradicts the supernatural occurrences that he describes, which often leads the reader to question whether or not the statement is a metaphor.
But it’s the book’s sometimes-complete disregard for logic that makes it so exciting. The reader can expect a constant push and pull between the plot’s realism and mysticism. Cats can talk, spirits are separated from their mind and body, and characters traverse consciousness to commit murder and incest. Woah.
Kafka on the Shore is, in a nutshell, a coming of age story about a young runaway named Kafka, and an elderly man named Satoru Nakata who experienced a mysterious event in his childhood that left him unable to read, but able to speak to cats. Kafka’s reasons for running away stem much from his traumatic family life and an inescapable Oedipal prophesy.
Does he find his mother and sister, who left him when he was a child? More importantly, does he sleep with his mother and kill his father? And how does Nakata’s past connect the two characters? We’ll, you’ll have to read the book.
This actually leads to my only negative feelings about the book, or that the author fails to answer enough questions for a reasonably satisfying ending. I understand that Murakami is not the type to answer all the questions; he wants to reader to draw their own conclusions and experience the book differently as they mature and reads the book at different phases in their own life. But I felt that the book left so much unanswered that even my own theories about the plot felt unfounded and arbitrary. But I suppose that also comes down to personal preference.
I’m currently reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, which is another collection of short stories. One of my colleagues has read every Murakami book and he recommended Norwegian Wood and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which most agree are his most well-regarded books (along with Kafka). I’ll definitely read those at some point, but I like to read well-known authors lesser known works first for the most part. Does anyone else do that?
If you’ve read Kafka before, please please let me know what your thoughts about the ending – I would love to discuss it with you. Also, any Murakami recommendations would be much appreciated.
Until next time lovelies!