Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
”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.
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.”
His given name isn’t Kafka Tamura, but when he decides to strike out on his own he gave himself a name that more properly fit the version of himself he wanted to become. Kafka means crow in Czech. A name of significance to an inner self. His father is a world famous sculptor, a man admired for the strength of emotion his creations inspire. He also brought his son into existence (no hocus pocus here...the old fashioned way) molding him as if he were inanimate clay, infusing him with imagination, and in the end like a demented soothsayer, warping him with an Oedipus curse.
Kill the father.
Sex the sister.
Seduce the mother.
”It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. It’s just like Yeats said: In dreams begin responsibilities. Flip this around and you could say that where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise.”
Kafka is fifteen, not going on sixteen, but barely fifteen. He is on a quest
to find himself.
to lose himself.
to escape himself.
to avoid the prophecy.
Like an arrow shot by a sure hand he lands at a private library managed by a beautiful woman named Miss Saeki. ”I look for the fifteen-year-old girl in her and find her right away. She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. But if you look carefully you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it.” Kafka feels a kinship with her that makes him wonder if she is his long lost mother. She has experienced tragedy, losing a lover when she was fifteen, and leaving behind a ghost of herself that becomes a haunting experience for Kafka.
”While they’re still alive, people can become ghosts.”
As a parallel story we follow the old man Nakata and his truck driving sidekick Hoshino. Nakata experienced something as a child during the war that left him unable to comprehend reality, but also opened up doorways in his mind to things that if they ever existed... in our minds... have long been lost.
He is crazy.
He is a prophet.
He can talk to cats.
He can understand stones.
He can open an umbrella and leeches or fish or lightening can fall from the sky.
He isn’t crazy.
Nakata searches for lost cats and discovers in the process that he has an arch nemesis in a cat killing phantom named Johnnie Walker. Johnnie turns cats into beautiful flutes and collects their heads in a similar fashion to big game hunters. After a confrontation Nakata finds himself with the need to leave which dovetails perfectly with his quest to find an entrance stone that opens up another world, another world where things have been left behind.
"You should start searching for the other half of your shadow.”
The connection between Nakata and Kafka are very strong. Their dreams mingle, a nemesis for one is a nemesis for the other. They may have different names, but they are one and the same. The quest for one of our heroes is contingent on the success of the other. If they are aware of each other it is buried under their own current perceptions of reality.
One of the more humorous moments is when Hoshino, once a perfectly sane normal human being, meets Colonel Sanders, not someone dressed as Colonel Sanders, but the finger lickin’ good, fried chicken magnet himself. Hoshino, after several days of trying to wrap his head around the eccentricities of his traveling companion, is in need of relaxation. As it turns out the Colonel can help him have the best time of his life.
He hooks him up with a prostitute, but not just any prostitute.
”The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.”
A philosophical prostitute with a special penchant for Hegel.
”Hegel believed that a person is not merely conscious of self and object as separate entities, but through the projection of the self via the mediation of the object is volitionally able to gain a deeper understanding of the self. All of which constitutes self-consciousness.”
“I dont’ know what the heck you’re talking about.”
“Well, think of what I’m doing to you right now. For me I’m the self, and you’re the object. For you, of course, it’s the exact opposite--you’re the self to you and I’m the object. And by exchanging self and object, we can project ourselves into the other and gain self-consciousness. Volitionally.”
“I still don’t get it, but it sure feels good.”
“That’s the whole idea.” the girl said.
I have a new appreciation for Hegel.
Kafka also meets a fantastic character named Oshima which I really can’t talk about without explaining him in detail, but by explaining him in detail would reveal a rather surprising moment in the book which I really want to preserve for those that haven’t read this book yet. Let’s just say he isn’t exactly who he seems, but he is exactly who he says he is. He proves to be the perfect friend for anyone, but for a dream questing fifteen year old runaway trying to escape an Oedipus Curse he is a steady rock to understand even those things beyond the scope of comprehension. He sees things for more than what they are.
Oshima explains to Kafka why he likes Schubert.
”That’s why I like to listen to Schubert while I’m driving. Like I said, it’s because all the performances are imperfect. A dense, artistic kind of imperfection stimulates your consciousness, keeps you alert. If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving. I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of--that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.”
It is hard for those of us who have based their whole life off of reason to keep from instantly dismissing the improbable, the impossible, the absurd, the preposterous, but you must if you are going to hang with Haruki Murakami. Although, I must say there is something very accessible about his writing style that makes the transition from reality to alternative reality to fantasy back to a new reality painless.
We all have mystical things happen to us. We rarely recognize it, most times we fill in what we don’t understand with something we can understand and in the process snap the threads of the extraordinary. I feel the lure of the unknown quite regularly. I feel the itch to leave everything and go someplace where no one knows my name. A place where maybe I can find the rest of my self, the lost selves each holding a fragment of the missing part of my shadow.
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