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Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

a novel by Haruki Murakami

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Honestly, I risk a grave error in reviewing this.

  • Jun 12, 2010
I'll state why:

Haruki Murakami is not your conventional author. He's not your conventional anything, as a matter of fact. Actually his novels are playgrounds rather than novels, his characters morphing every minute as they deal with the incongruities of the unchanging swings, monkey bars, slides, and odd tic-tac-toe blocks that I myself never made any use of. They become cramped, find brief repose as the wind rides through their hair as they swing like a pendulum, or hang around with a cigarette in hand, using a platform or other only for purposes of disinterested support.

And in much the same way a set of bars can be used in quite different ways -- to hang from, climb atop, lean upon for instance -- life with Murakami takes on a fundamentally different aspect for each and every one of its possessors.

Yet that's not even the beginning.

Murakami is cryptic. You can jump into any one of his books before testing the waters and realize how cold, hot, or populated with slithering eels it is (to be sure, it's often a generous combination of the eels and an extremity of temperature). That's not to say he's indecipherable; quite the contrary, in fact. Every chapter, perhaps page, perhaps even paragraph is an anecdote or poem in itself, often a glittering metaphor at that. And every new book, it seems, is a more accurate approximation to perfection of this meticulous craft.

No, indecipherable is not the correct implication. I would say multitudinous, for the direct aim of Murakami is to force you to think about what is, was, will be, could be, sometimes is, never was, might conceivably be at three-fourteen A.M. in the home of Stephen Hawking, and just what the hell you think you're doing with your own life, anyway. He purposefully, professionally, psychologically, philosophically breaks continuity seemingly at random, dances between impossible (so far as we know) realities, invites us to vivid landscapes of mind, tells us silly facts and then jokes about them (after it was said that Haydn could not compose without wearing a powdered wig, the speaker remarks "...that's between Haydn and his wig..."), and does a whole bunch of other stuff such that if you weren't being too attentive you may think Richard Feynman had somehow wormed his way in there to figure a rough draft for the sequel to 'Why Do You Care What Other People Think?'.

For all this, we're thrown something that looks remarkably like a bone at one point. A little old man with the acute conviction that he is the Colonel Sanders of K.F.C. fame accosts a character as to whether he is familiar with (gasp!) the concept of higher dimensionality, then proceeds to baffle the poor fellow with the usual quantum-consciousness fodder of infinity, universal interconnectedness, and the like.

But to verify that it was really a bone we were given, this conversation must be taken into consideration in combination with another overarching subject whose existence was confirmed earlier on in the story. I mentioned that each chapter, perhaps page, perhaps even paragraph is an... you remember the rest. Murakami makes heavy, almost downright promiscuous use of metaphors throughout. Thus, though the literary feeling is loosely maintained, it is not at all a story we are being shown so much as a treatise on the flow of cosmic consciousness.

"Wait!" you say. "'cosmic consciousness' is pretty damned vague. I've never known exactly, or slightly even, what was meant by that one. Now I've heard some new age crystalphiles use it here and there, so it must have to do with-"

At which point I reply, "Silence! It's a very simple notion. Things within the vicinity of other things tend towards each other (think gravitation, or two young, naive, and lonely teenagers); things moving in one direction along a path induce a notion of polarity (our conception of time, a river, a bone thrown at us); a lot of little things moving together can carry other things with it (a boat on water, the glazing over of your eyes with time as you read this). These are all relations between a thing and some other thing -- X and Y, where X can be any number of other relations between Xs, Ys, Zs, birds or bees, and Y can be the same. The universe (or reality, or everything) is split into a whole bunch of these relations, and all such relations can have something in common, which is called the form of the relation. So if the relation of a thing tending towards another thing is written as 'if X is in the vicinity of Y, X and Y tend towards each other', and further simplified to 'if X * Y, X and Y $", a * connecting X and Y followed by a $ saying that they come together would be our form."

I'm terribly sorry to have bombarded the general reader with the metamathematical. But there's more yet.

"Alright, admittedly it maybe isn't that simple," I continue, "but just listen, will ya? That's how metaphors are made. So let's go ahead and conjoin this with quantum physics to explain the remainder of this 'cosmic consciousness' deal. If everything that happens follows a general set of rules, or forms, then what physically gave rise to this behavior? For we must now consider what it is in nature that makes the same thing manifest in myriad ways across the entirety of the universe. I'll say it again: the entirety of the universe. To answer this we will draw another metaphor. Here's the simple part: exchange 'universe' with 'mind'. Therefore our 'things' become 'thoughts' and the relations correspond to various patterns of unconscious behavior. You shouldn't have any lingering doubt now about the physical basis of metaphor."

You fix your gaze firmly at mine, your brow is furrowed. "Makes sense, but you haven't explained the part about quantum physics." My heart thumps as I face the question I hoped could be smoothed over with just a tad more sophistry.

"Uh... thatinvolvesmorecomplicatedstufflikethenatureofantiparticlesmovingbackwardin


Nothing. On with the review.

Aside from the loosely connected story we see an Oedipus complex in the form of a character's 'accidental' murder of his father and subsequent tête-à-tête with his mother (his intention of murder coupled with the moment's powerful, sadistic energy of his father towards another character causes him to tunnel seamlessly through space, unknowingly butcher the guy, and appear in the area of his original position covered in blood). Some other character explains a belief of ancient Greece to the aforementioned father-killer about each person being split apart in gender and thus forever searching for their other half. The aforeaforementioned father-killer remarks that his facial features, which he dislikes for their resemblance to his father's, are a result of something 'ingrained deep inside' himself. The phrase 'for the time being' makes key appearances.

My mistake is that I could not have possibly hoped to give a remotely proper overview of Kafka On the Shore without eventually requiring recourse to such a lengthy digression. The ostensible story is beautiful in itself, but pales exponentially in contrast to its actual meaning.

And what, praytell, is this story I have so refrained from summarizing?

A fourteen year-old boy named Kafka tamura plans to run away from home on his fifteenth birthday. He frankly can't stand his cold, stoic, mostly absent father, and so plans to surf a bus to some out-of-the-way place, where he plans to find a job to fill the day, a library to piss the evening away, and a bush or something to sleep in. On the bus he meets a young, attractive woman whom he later ends up receiving fellatio from. He camps out at the library of his choice for a few days before being found out by one of its only two employees, after which he is given a permanent residence by said employee.

Stuff like that.
It's seven A.M. I ought to go to bed now.

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July 19, 2010
Wow, this book sounds really fascinating! I'm trying to hone my Japanese skills, so maybe I'll pick up the Japanese version. Thanks for sharing!
July 20, 2010
Ah, thanks for reading my review! Really though I could have made it out a lot less academically, as I believe however much emphasis Murakami places on abstractions he ultimately wishes their content to remain in the background like the shifting intuitions and subconscious of our own minds.
June 14, 2010
Amazing review! This sounds like an intensely deep and philosophical piece. I've already added it to my TBR list. Also, I was up till 7am the other day myself, lol. I couldn't stop thinking, so I found myself writing. :)
More Kafka on the Shore reviews
review by . July 09, 2010
If you are willing to suspend your want of reasons, solutions, character growth or resolution, "Kafka" is for you.  Another review spoke of Murakami as a creator of playgrounds rather than a writer of novels; this is completely true.      "Kafka on the Shore" follows the perspective of two characters.  First is "Kafka," a 15-year-old runaway who is both encouraged and questioned by the boy, Crow, who exists only in his mind.  The …
review by . August 06, 2010
I found Haruki Kurami’s writing style to be somewhat bland and typical, nothing special like I was hoping for.  I did like his narrative style; he had multiple stories running along side one another.  It left me trying to find connections between the story lines, which Kurami gave subtle hints at, foreshadowing events to come, fates to meet.  All the story lines very nearly converged into one, but still kept their separate point of view.    Kurami’s plot …
Quick Tip by . July 21, 2010
my absolute favorite book by murakami. i always think of murakami as the japanese answer to magical realism -
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Haruki Murakami... good job on this one. I quite liked it.
Quick Tip by . June 17, 2010
great book, incredibly bizarre, but surreal and beautiful
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Dmitri ()
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About this book


 With Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami gives us a novel every bit as ambitious and expansive as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which has been acclaimed both here and around the world for its uncommon ambition and achievement, and whose still-growing popularity suggests that it will be read and admired for decades to come. This magnificent new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour de force of metaphysical reality, it is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle-yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given ...
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ISBN-10: 1400079276 (pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9781400079278 (pbk.)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Vintage
Date Published: January 3, 2006
Format: Umibe no Kafuka. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.
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