Kafka On The Shore

Kafka On The Shore, A Book Review

There are books, then there are books. Kafka on the shore is like those latter books that put an anchor through your heart and keep on tugging, giving you sweet pain, until you revisit them, again and again.

While I write this review, some random Spotify Jazz playlist fills my study room. Oh, how I wish to get my music collection curated by the man himself. Yes, that’s the first piece of information with which I want to begin this lover letter of a review of one of my all-time favourite books, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (or Murakami Haruki, the Japanese way of taking names.)

“But this is something you have to work out on your own. Nobody can help you. That’s what love’s all about, Kafka. You’re the one having those wonderful feelings, but you have to go it alone as you wander through the dark. Your mind and body have to bear it all. All by yourself.”

Simply speaking, there are two main threads to the story. They are more like veins and arteries of a body whose soul is still intact. The soul that breaths in a flute that sings songs of raining frogs and leeches.

The book is surprisingly structured rather smartly given the laid back and eccentric nature of the characters. The narrative structure comprises of two seemingly remote but still somehow juxtaposed plots. The book takes the reader back and forth in time, leaving the reader to cope up with peculiarities of the two worlds of the same Murakamian universe.

The book opens with a 15-year-old Kafka Tamura who is yet to figure out his place in the world. He is haunted by a dark and sometimes cynical Oedipal curse. After his initial struggle with himself and the people around, Kafka runs away from his father’s house. After a couple of interesting encounters on the way, he finds refuge in a private library in Takamatsu. A library that rarely sees visitors and is managed by a recluse of a manager Miss Saeki. Kafka gets a job at the library and settles down amongst the books. Here, Kafka finds the time and space to get his head around what he is pursuing, i.e. his destiny. Until one day, the past comes calling in the already prophecised Oedipus prophecy.

Another tale wraps the main narrative like a snake around the Rod of Asclepius. Nakata, though illiterate, has unmatched eccentric abilities. He can talk to cats. Some cats, not all. A pet detective of sorts, who uses a rather unique set of skills to not just outsmart potential human threats but so no humane ones coming from other creatures. Nakata who generally minds his cat business somehow finds himself drawn to a case that puts him on a journey which, unfolds like a quality thriller but feels high on mushroom. Magical elements and occurrences take hold of the reality which feels more and more like fantasy as the story progresses. The characters like Hoshino, the truck driver who Tanaka befriends on his way, feel more like the anchors that keep the story rooted in reality.

It is needless to say that both threads finally meet to give the reader a fantastical ending.

As the name of the book suggests, Murakami seems quite influenced by the works of great Franz Kafka; and to see Kafkaesque elements settling down subtly well into the Murakami universe is an out of the world experience.

Murakami’s ability to speak through his characters is truly an unmatched wonder. His style is as unique, immersive and finally balanced as the symbol of the ancient Chinese philosophy, Yin-Yang. On one hand, Murakami shows the intricacies of human mind and emotions through the inward journey of a 15-year-old Runaway Kafka Tamura, and on the other, he turns his gaze completely outward when it comes to exploring the real world of magical realism through the not-so-bright (or maybe the brightest of them all), easy-going, cat-loving old-man Nakata. This very contrast and the phenomenons like talking cats, raining frogs, and deep dark forests among others are the elements that make Haruki Murakami a writer of his own league.

Murakami also seems obsessed with projecting himself into his works with authority. His philosophical commentary is a constant in the book. Be it through his love for Beethoven’s life and works or simply the jazz music, his references are reverential and refined.

Furnishing some of the best bits of his commentary:

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

The only thing that a book lover, and not a Murakami fanatic, may complain about is the overt pessimism of the characters. Also, the repetition of ideas and thoughts may be little too much for some.

In conclusion, this book is an infinite source of food for thought that takes you on an inward journey which only the best of writers can do to a reader. The only thing it asks for in return is your patience.

Kafka On The Shore is published in India by Vintage/Penguin Random House in India.

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