Archive for March 18, 2010

Kafka on the Shore – Sparkling Bullshit or Baffling Erudition?

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

This novel is kind of weird. It is populated with strange events – fishes and leeches fall from the sky for reasons left unexplained; and stranger characters – a diabolical whiskey mascot, a fast food icon masquerading as a pimp, a crow of a conscience, two frozen in time World War II Japanese soldiers guarding the entrance to a parallel world deep inside a jungle and more. Two concurrent plots converge briefly and part ways, the connection between them vague, tenuous.

The chief protagonist Kafka Tamura is a 15 year old boy with a suffocating emotional baggage, who runs away from home seeking to escape a dark prophesy. Nakata, his counterpart in the parallel narrative is a self confessed retard who talks to cats. Pried loose from his quotidian existence at Nakano ward, Nakata is driven by mysterious fate into a metaphysical journey of revelations, to set the universe back in order. Other characters, most significantly the transsexual library assistant Oshima and bellicose yet conscientious truck driver Hoshino, guides and assists Kafka and Nakata in their respective journeys. The novel is interlaced with several philosophical observations and the author’s opinion on various subjects, especially music.

Quoted below are the ones that I found most mystifying:

 “But people need to cling to something, they have to, you are doing the same, even though you don’t realize. It’s as Goethe said: “everything is a metaphor”.”

 “everything in life is a metaphor. We accept irony through a device called metaphor. And through that we grow and become deeper human beings”

 “But irony deepens a person, helps them to mature. It’s the entrance to salvation on a higher plane, to a plane where you can find a more universal kind of hope”

 “Man doesn’t choose fate. Fate chooses man. That’s the basic world view of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues”

 “A revelation leaps over the borders of the everyday. A life without revelation is no life at all. What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts…”

 “that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through limitless accumulation of the imperfect”

 “The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory”

There are many more, some makes sense some don’t. The refrain, “everything is a metaphor” recurs throughout possibly to emphasize the allegorical nature of the novel.

It was difficult for me to identify closely with Kafka. Miss Saeki in her real and spiritual manifestations did not touch a chord. In my opinion, the characters closest to reality in the novel are Hoshino and Nakata (despite his bewildering capabilities). This is not a book easily understandable on the first reading. There are a medley of situations and characters, some apparently superfluous – the prostitute philosopher and the coffee shop owner who postures as a western classical music expert for example. Aside from expounding the author’s  philosophical stand or opinion on music these characters do not appear to have any bearing on the plot. The import of Beethoven’s Archduke’s Trio to the storyline is also completely incomprehensible to me.

A complex fabric of  myth, mystery, magic and realism – not really endearing on the first read, but worth returning to – that is how I would describe the book. On the positive side, the language of the English version is simple and dialogues crisp and flowing, thanks to skillful translation by Peter Gabriel.

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Categories: Bibliophilia