Tuesday, May 18, 2010
KAFKA ON THE SHORE
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.