Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore is like a beautiful piece of jazz---enticing, almost mesmerizing, and slightly unnerving. And no doubt, like many pieces of music, there will be those who passionately hate or love this book. I fall somewhere in the middle, though I really enjoyed the magical fantasy and was drawn along with the storylines. One is the tale of fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura as he escapes an unhappy home in search of a mother and sister who left him with his artist father when the little boy was four (and whose dad creepily predicts an Oedipal experience). Kafka (a name he gave himself) is drawn to a strange supporting cast, among others, that includes a beautiful older woman who cannot forget her long-dead lover and a sexually conflicted (no offense to anyone) librarian who helps him mature and achieve some focus for his future. The other is about a delightful and kind old man, Nakata, struck somewhat mentally challenged by a mysterious event that occurred on an outing when he was in elementary school during World War II, who has acquired the talent of finding lost felines (because he has learned to talk with them). He is drawn on a quest to complete a mysterious task, and gains a willing assistant along the way, in the hope of attaining a measure of normality. A murder helps propel the protagonists toward their entwined destinies, and the book can easily be seen as a search for closure. There is much to delight readers. . .spirits who take the guise of pop culture icons, conversational cats, time warps, unnatural events. . .and the characters and stories are compelling enough to keep one’s attention. Yet, there are facets that make one take pause (such as incestuous connotations and animal cruelty). I am still bothered by Murakami’s insistence that his characters (all of them) be well versed in or drawn to western music and literature (rather than at least pulling in some Japanese themes or culture), and his occasional repetitiveness (even from other books, such as his fixation on bayonets, penises, and cats, for instance). One does have to make many leaps of faith. The book will also, I think, invite literary critics and scholars to find connections with many other writers (such as Salinger, Gaiman, Baum, Lewis Carrol). Still, in the end, for me it was a satisfying read.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Tonight I watched an interesting Russian film, Alexandra, by director Alexander Sohurov. In this slow, but touching, film an elderly grandmother visits her officer grandson at his remote base in the Caucasus Mountains (Chechnya, I think), a dusty patch of frontier in a troubled corner of the Russian empire. She is a tough lady, who wants to see what is going on and even leaves the base by herself at one point to go to the nearby market, where she interacts with some of the local population. In many ways she is a typical matron, criticizing her grandson's appearance and lack of wife, notices his work feet and scraped knuckles (from disciplining a soldier) but she also is never dainty or restrained from doing what she wants to do. The film seems to be making judgments about the war through her eyes and experiences: the youthfulness of the troops, the tough discipline, the poor equipment and supplies. The men, for the most part, are amazed and smitten by the presence of the old lady at their base, and treat her with respect and almost a longing for their own families. There may be a bit of a message about the destruction the Russians have laid upon the region, but it is not heavy handed. The film, instead, tries to (I think) focus on the humantiy of all people, that despite differences, individuals can get along. If you are looking for an upbeat, action-packed thriller, this movie is not for you, but it is interesting and worthwhile. Obvioulsy much of the subtleness is lost on me, as I don't speak Russian, but I think I understood the movie fairly well.



I know the garden is left untended
to flower and die as you intended
an occasional trip down a row, maybe

Pulling a weed or planting a seed,
but I need a visit very badly indeed,
for I am dying at the root, you’ll see.

Earth is so dry, and I’m really trampled
foulest disappointment I have sampled,
but my pain is naught compared to others.

My core has shriveled, I’m barely a weed,
and perhaps I could lose even my seed,
don’t deserve help, but I’ve got my brother’s,

And my sisters too, they all have pitched in
have forgiven my wrongs, each and every sin
but only you can renew this field, to invigorate.

Just a tear from your eye could water the ground,
and soothe the root-pain, though I’ll still be bound,
I hope you can come soon, or it may be too late.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicles

Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a wonderful, almost Alice In Wonderland tale, of a young newly unemployed legal asssitant from Tokyo whose wife walks off and disappears (apparently for another man) and who struggles to find and rescue her, even as he slips into an increasingly surreal world populated, among others, by ex-Japanese soldiers with dark secrets; a prophetic sister team; a mysterious mother-and-son psychic-healing duo; an evil politician (his hated rival and brother-in-law); and a troubled, smart, teenager who seems to have a special bond and relationship with her older friend, as well as a mysterious plot of land. Some people might even compare Murakami to Vonnegut, with his mix of historical events, humor, and unusual events. The strongest parts of the book, I feel, are the stories told by Mamiya and Hondo, and the enjoyable letters from young May. I don’t ant to go into the story, which follows a lot of different paths, and unfortunately, does not tie up all the loose ends. I know some people don’t like that. But it is an intriguing and enjoyable story to follow, nonetheless. I do not want to give away too much of the story.

The book struck many chords with me, which gave it even more punch. I sympathized with Toru after his wife left, and he struggled to understand why she had gone to the one individual that she could never have expected her to. Murakami masterfully details Toru’s confusion and hurt, and it brought up painful feelings for me. The author also touches on historical events that, to the best of my knowledge, are little discussed and (from what I heard from many Japanese students) not taught about Japanese activities in Manchuria during World War II (shades of Slaughterhouse 5?) and the trials of Japanese POWs in Russian Siberia. There is a sweetness in the relationship between the older man and younger woman. Murakami also mixes in a little erotica, a dash of mystery, dreamlike sequences, odd behavior, and brutal imagery.

Murakami is a great writer, but some things confuse me. I can’t tell if he is writing the books for a Western audience or just includes what he enjoys about Western culture. Although the story takes place in Japan and the characters are all Japanese, you get the feeling that it could just have easily been located in the Midwest. Surely some of the characters would have liked something of Japanese culture? Do all Japanese drink, smoke, and wear western items, and listen to western music? Murakami is constantly inserting references to western literature (is he showing off that he is well read?). It does not take away from the story in any fashion, but it made me wonder. I also at times feel that he is a bit too repetitious, too frequently reminding his readers of events that they should be fully aware of. Despite this qualm, I really enjoy his storytelling.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I still feel a phantom caress,
a gnawing silent emptiness,
too strong to deny or even tame,
a nagging unquenchable flame.
It still burns, but heats much less,
No ashes fall, mocking passionless.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rob Crosby

A consistent strong breeze issued off the Congaree River, cooling the rather large crowd that gathered to hear Rob Crosby and his band play tonight. The boys and I (along with two neighbors) attended the second event in the Rhythm on the River concert series put on at the Riverwalk Amphitheatre. The crowd was clearly excited to hear the local boy, and he did not disappoint them. The opening act was a woman (I think her name was Wells) who sang about three songs; she didn't have a commanding stage presence, but she did have a nice voice. Most of the music was a mix of country, folk, and blues, and most of it was very enjoyable. It is not my cup of tea normally, but I really liked the covers of James Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Carole King songs, plus several of his originals were really nice too. The song I enjoyed the most was a little piece called "Til the Last Shot is Fired." I also liked "Pray For Me"; the crowd favorite was probably "Rise Above It." My friend Fred was there and we got to chat. The kids mostly ran around along the river; we watched a black snake shimmy up a tree. A few greyhounds made an appearance, and you know me, I had to go greet them. Overall, a nice time had by all.