Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle—yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.
This is the longest I have taken to finish a book but it was worth it. I didn’t think I would actually end up liking it.
The first part of the book is very beautiful, descriptive and has deep, meaningful and philosophical passages which will make you think. The middle of the book is confusing and a bit frustrating to be honest. And that takes a whole lot of your time and maybe you will lose the urge to continue reading the book. It is also quite disturbing. Strange and disturbing.
But the later part of the book will leave you feeling all sorts of things. It wasn’t as emotional as I predicted. I accepted whatever happened and it was more of a feeling of fulfilment.
The whole theme of the book rests on two words alone. Container and Memories. What’s inside the container? Be it the soul of someone who wants to be a man instead of the woman’s body which is the container or someone who has nothing inside and just emptiness. A container with no substance. A container that can take any form. A container that would let anybody in. Or a container that uses up all that is substantial. Or a container that is lost in memories. A container that is merely being for the sake of being. And a container that doesn’t need a container at all.
Memories complete us. They make us who we are. They are all that we have. We cling to them and tell ourselves that our lives have been meaningful. The book constantly touches upon this. Nakata’s lack of memories. Miss Saeki’s struggle with memories. Kafka’s blurred version of his memories. Mr. Hoshino’s memories. Oshima’s. Sada’s. Some can be put into words and some are better left alone. They need not be explained in words, even to yourself.
The book is filled with amazing characters, as usual as it is with Murakami. I learnt a lot from the characters. I learnt that it is better to not think about the things that you have no control over. It is better to let things be. Let them take their own course. Your responsibility comes in only when it is right in front of you. Until then, there is no use thinking about it. When it is there, you would know it and you would know what to do.
>>Nakata’s way of looking at life
For him, there is no predetermined way of doing things. He just did what he felt was the right thing to do. He didn’t get caught up in the ways of how adults look at the world. His open head space allowed him to look at people and all things equally, without prejudice or any judgments. Nothing surprised him and he accepted everything as it came his way. To sum him up, he is an old man with a child’s mind.
I have a lot of theories about Nakata and I think I will hold onto them and think a bit more about them. I would love to read a whole book dedicated just to him. Nakata’s way of looking at life reminded me of the little prince.
The plot is intense, slow paced, felt dragged at times and the flow of the story could have been better. Some parts were left for the reader’s interpretation and I think that is the beauty of it. The story is told in two point of views. One of Nakata’s and one of the boy named Crow and Kafka.
>>“Kafka on the shore “on morality
If you only look at it from the top of a tree, just like the crow, an observer who has no awareness of what’s right and what’s wrong, would you then be able to enjoy the book completely.
It has a lot of disturbing as well as confusing elements which soon get concluded and resolved. Disturbing still the same. But if you look at it as an unbiased observer with an open mind, who has no idea about laws morality or concepts as such, you would find them to be the most natural thing to happen. Like that’s what is supposed to happen. It is dirty and abominable to a common mind but you just let it happen.
The book also explores the idea of dramaturgy. Murakami talks about necessity and how things are put in place just because of the purpose they serve. Dramaturgy is a concept in which there is no relevance to logic, morals or meaning. What necessity requires does need to exist and that’s about it.
>>Being lost / Depression and suicide / being on the edge/ a metaphor
I felt that the whole book is a grand metaphor for depression. The entrance being the edge of the world, where one goes when they are completely lost and have nothing left to look forward to. The place where all people go and be, when they are off the edge of insanity/madness. A world of blur where there are no names and you don’t even know who you are. I saw Miss Saeki and Kafka’s interference there as the same, as how one convinces the other to not make the same mistake as theirs and go on living with the memories they made. Make a meaning out of them. And she urges him to never come back. Urges him to move forward and live instead.
>>Definitely not recommended to those who are new to Murakami
If you are not a fan of descriptions, you probably wouldn’t like Murakami as much. I would recommend reading Norwegian wood as your first Murakami instead,if you really want to try, for it is concise and is equally beautiful. I loved the descriptions about food, music and books in Norwegian wood and I actually have a kept note of all the recommendations thrown at me in this one. I don’t find them taxing because it is written very well and it is just like overhearing two people talk and it helps one feel what the characters are feeling.
>> Kafka’s prophecy / curse
Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy and to stay as far away from his father, ends up believing in his curse so much so that he ends up doing the same things his curse said would make happen. That’s how I see it. Because when you end up having a predetermined fate in your head, unlike Nakata who never really thought about the future until it is right in front of him, it ends up coming true.
It was his prediction and his father’s curse which he believed in, that he would violate his sister and so he did. In his dreams. But he never actually did anything. For her, nothing happened. For her, it was just a dream where he was lost and she was looking after him. He got caught up in his curse and blamed himself with false ideas.
In their first life, they were together. They loved each other very much. He died. She lived with his memories as a shell of a person. In the next life, they love each other very much. She dies. He lives with her memories, his shell becoming complete more than ever.
Genre: Magic realism / Surrealism
I highly recommend.