Book Review – Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami

by RajaRajeshwari Arenga

Alert!! Long winding post written in one sitting, squinting and typing with one finger on the tiny smartphone keys, while travelling, with minimal editing. Kindly excuse. Some spoilers in store too.
Read on if you dare…
Finally finished reading Kafka on the shore. I took my time with it. Reread several lines which considerably slowed my progress. But it was worth it. It enveloped me in its other-worldliness. A welcome diversion too, from the overwhelming grief of losing a dear aunt and friend recently. The book absolutely commands one’s attention with its mesmerizing tone, silky smooth flow of language and mind bending riddles that overlap and intertwine.
While I can claim to have read it fully…it still continues to linger in my mind enticing me to unravel the riddles so finely intervowen.
Ceaseless questions about the book continue to churn. It is like an abstract painting or a sculpture that realigns and changes shape and form depending on the time of the day you observe it and which direction you view it from.
It is a multi-layered reading experience which stimulates you with mystery, adventure, magic realism and a generous dose of shock value, all wrapped in a dreamlike surreal landscape.
If you peel away the layers, at the bottom lies a seemingly coming of age story of a 15 year old boy who runs away after facing parental abuse. Unspeakable mental abuse by his father by way of imposing a shocking prophecy with incestuous implications on an impressionable young child’s psyche and abandonment and rejection trauma brought on by his absconding mother who left with his sister, leaving him behind. Something that continues to haunt Kafka, triggering and directing his decisions and actions, rendering him mature, way beyond his years, trapped by inner demons and his destiny shaped and bound by a seemingly self-fulfilling prophecy.
Parallelly run two other stories.
Story of an endearing old man with a pure heart and a clean slate of mind. Nakata. Someone who is open to magical possibilities and receptive to ideas, however outrageous, with a strong moral compass and sense of justice. Courageous and compassionate inspite of his perceived shortcomings. A man with the heart and mind of a child, shaped by a life changing childhood incident shrouded in unearthly mystery. A piece of him locked away in an alternate reality. Later in the story he is joined by another man, Hoshino, who is almost on a similar wavelength. One who admires and follows Nakata and has the potential of carrying on Nakata’s legacy so to speak.
Nakata’s character of living in the present moment and being alert and conscientous about his actions is juxtaposed against that of a woman’s: Miss.Saeki who lives in the past, her current existence characterized by frozen feelings and her actions in auto-pilot mode and her present experiences swiftly captured in a journal, then promptly purged from her memory. The girl-woman who triggered the mayhem and uncanny happenings by discovering and tinkering with the “stone” in the first place enabling her to lock away a piece of “love-struck version” herself in an alternate reality. Timelines probably don’t matter once the portal is open and time can flow in any direction and events occur in parallel.
As the plots diverge and collide, we run into several characters from talking cats, to international brand icons for liquor and food personified as evil and neutral beings that create turning points in the stories.
There was an underlying theme of feminity and feminism under fire. I could be wrong ofcourse. I draw this interpretation from his portrayal of the women characters, and the scope, depth and intent of their roles, apart from the below.
– Kafka’s mother who abandons him and walks away with his sister, unless ofcourse she and Kafka’s sister were murdered by Kafka’s father.
– The sadistic and gruesome killing of cats by Johnny Walker, cats symbolizing the feminine.
– A teacher who flies into a rage driven by shame about her feminine waste being discovered by a student. Then hits the student, causing him to faint and conceals this bit of information.
– An erudite and suave Oshima who is implied as being a woman physically, yet with a masculine psyche, who dresses as a man and prefers relationship with men. Creation of a situation by the author to delve into the shallow nature of two women with a misplaced sense of women’s rights and feminism, who are cleverly upstaged by brilliant Oshima who leaves no stone unturned in belittling the two. What is the relevance of this incident?
– Miss.Saeki who languishes for her lost love. Opens the portal causing some kind of time shift, alternate realities leading to havoc. It takes Nakata to step in and save the day with Hoshino’s help.
– the young girl version of Miss.Saeki drops in every day in the cottage in the woods to cook for the boy she loves…in an eternal cycle.
Some more questions to add to the questionaire that might be already whirling in your mind.
– Maybe the Oedipus prophecy and theme is a red herring, as in it is a false or misinterpreted prophecy intended to divert and confuse.
Take this away and try interpreting the story, can we?
– Was Hoshino’s meeting with philosophy spouting 19year old girl arranged by Col.Sanders, signify a meet between different versions of Nakata and Saeki respectively?
– The two soldiers mention to Kafka that most kids don’t make it beyond a certain point on their journey to the “Neverland” in the woods. Rather than Kafka, Nakata and Oshino’s elder brother, by ‘most kids’ are they referring to the other school kids who returned before reaching the destination?
– Is Sakura a figment of Kafka’s imagination? His description of her face is rather unusual. Also refer his first meet with her. She sits on a seat next to him. (Continue to the next page.) She looks at him or converses with him from across the table. Noticed a discrepancy here. (Maybe he made her up.) The police could not trace his call to her. Her phone is conveniently prepaid, which cannot be tracked.
– The two women questioning the absence of separate restrooms for women in the library…could they be Kafka’s long lost estranged mother and sister? Little far-fetched maybe but unable to discard this compelling question.
– Does Oshima’s fetish for sharpened pencils directly correspond to his keeping his intellect sharp, clear-cut and incisive while his identity might be ambiguous, something he keeps bringing up?
– Does the crow (rather than being Kafka’s subconscious) signify his mother’s spirit and Johnny Walker his father’s?
– Saeki’s prophetic “one hit wonder” song versus Kafka’s dad’s prophecy, both potent and connect, twist, turn and drive the plotlines or is it just Kafka’s over enthusiastic interpretations of them?
– The silvery slimy eel-like being that emerges out of Nakata on two occasions. What is it?

Need to stop typing now. Abruptly. Time to pick up the next book to read.

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