Thursday, April 7, 2011

Murakami's Colorful Dreamscape

"Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they're also what tear you apart." — Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore is a story about a fifteen-year-old bookworm who calls himself Kafka and runs away from home, partly to look for his long-missing mother and sister, but mostly to get away from his horrible father, whose crimes against him are never fully explained. Fate draws him to a town where, among other things, he meets two women who may well be his mother and sister, which doesn't prevent him from having sex with them. His story, which is as Oedipal as they come, is intersected with that of Nakata, a sixty-year-old simpleton who speaks kindly and politely to everyone he meets. A pleasant old man, who never recovered from a wartime affliction, a bizarre childhood accident left him learning-disabled, and unable to read or write. His needs, like his thoughts, are simple. Nakata now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events that transpires both Kafka's and Nakata's lives are interconnected, but exactly how this is doesn't become clear until the end, if indeed it does then.

It's one of the most engaging and magical pieces of literature I've read. Reality is unclear. The book presses the boundaries of what exists around the characters versus what exists in their minds. Powerful forces guide the characters with some known, some unknown. Odd things happen within the context of everyday Japan. A beautiful weave of metaphysical, philosophy, and wonderful characters that is both 'global' and 'Japanese'. Oedipal theory put to music, Hegelian subject given a body, Beethoven symphonies come to life. What I do admire about ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is its dichotomous structure and the way the two stories are intertwined and brought together towards the end. Not surprisingly, parallel worlds begin to intersect; the real world and the other side get all mixed up.

Murakami is obviously someone who thought deeply and originally about his world and theories he comes in contact with. Much like Kafka and Nakata and many of those they meet including some of the kitties. Only in a Murakami novel would you find raining fish, ghosts, people who are able to talk to cats, and Colonel Saunders (yes, of KFC) popping up as if it's completely the norm. This was one of those books that totally engulfed me. It was a trial having to put it down to go to work or sleep.

In all Murakami novels I have read so far, there were always some strong themes that stood out even in wild, mind-bending storylines. I loved his simple and trusting mind. One of my favorite parts of the novel was the way Beethoven's music struck a chord with him and stirred something inside him. I wish there was a bit more about how music brought about some kind of transformation of his persona. I also feel a lot of sympathy for Nakata. Due to a strange accident during the WWII he lost his ability to have feelings and memories. Imagine what living like that would be!

Haruki Murakami (村上春樹) is a popular contemporary Japanese writer and translator. His work has been described as "easily accessible, yet profoundly complex." Critics suggest his work draws from film noir and contains elements of magical realism.

Most of the things which I love about Murakami's writing are his completely ordinary characters which usually find themselves in completely extraordinary circumstances, and still rise to the occasion without batting an eye. I enjoyed ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ is the endearing humor. I missed the music of the words which brought to life the prose of ‘Norwegian Wood’. I missed the splendid descriptions of scenes which made ‘Wild Sheep Chase’ so memorable. I loved ‘Kafka on the Shore’ although it lacks the emotional resonance of ‘Norwegian Wood’ (my favorite Murakami book so far) and because Philip Gabriel's translation is a little too American for my taste.

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