Friday, January 18, 2008

Kafka on the shore - Haruki Murakami

I picked up Kafka on the Shore - the only book by Haruki Murakami that I could find in the biggest bookstore in my hometown. Upon enquiring why they don’t have more books by the author, I got the response that not many people can digest Murakami’s work. I considered this as an intellectual challenge and walked out with the book.

Set in Japan, the story follows two characters on their phantasmagoria—a teenage boy named Kafka Tamura who is running away from home and an old, not so smart man called Nakata who is following Kafka’s path out of an unexplained compulsion. As the story progresses, Murakami brings in plenty of surreal scenarios – human talking to cats, rain of fish and leeches, UFOs, slimy creature slipping out of a dead man’s mouth, a person eating cats’ hearts to create a flute, WWII soldiers guarding a township inside a dense forest, – it just goes on till the end! You are compelled to keep reading if only to find out what the hell is going on – all the while hoping that everything will fit in at the end. But sadly, it doesn’t

The story is filled with symbols and metaphors, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of any of them. It is a page-turner but for some reason I'm left with this puzzlement and confusion about the ending of the story. There's so many things left unsaid and unfinished. Murakami himself isn't too interested in making sure he answers all your questions either. Anyone got any clues for me? I don’t want to give up on the ‘intellectual challenge’.

The author recommends repeat readings: riddles abound it seems! I'd give that a miss after the first experience.

If magic realism or surreal roller-coasters excite you, you will love this book. Otherwise, you are better off reading the op-ed section of the newspaper.

A bit of caution advised to Johnnie Walker fans as well.


AK said...

Like a friend said.. reading Murakami is like tasting wine - you are not looking for answers, but just enjoying the experience. Personally, Murakami is one of my fav authors. I have read most of his books (have not read KOTS yet as I have heard that that is not one of his best). I agree that it is not for everyone, and Murakami leaves lot of questions unanswered (the only time this really frustrated me was when I finished Windup Bird Chronicle - supposedly his best) but I whenever I find myself in a reader's bloc, I pick up a Murakami. Some of the prose he writes is fantastic! - I feel. You may want to read his Norwegian Wood or South of the border west of the sun. They are a lot less dilute on the vagueness aspect and deals with real life situations a lot more. Give it one more try ;)!

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Hi AK,

My guess was right. I had this premonition that maybe I selected the wrong book to start my Murakami adventure. I'll try to get my hands on the books you've suggested.

Btw when you say the prose he writes is fantastic - isn't that already diluted due to the translation. Or is it the storyline you are talking about?

N said...

Hey Priya,

Murakami - awesome! Kafka on the Shore - not so much! And you guessed right - wrong book to start with. His best so far is Norwegian Wood (and by now I've read almost all). You will fall in love with his writing solely on the basis of this one book.

Murakami has a weird kind of fascination for me. Most of his books leave questions unanswered, riddles unsolved, issues unresolved - but somehow I can't stop myself from reading them, from reaching out for them in bookstores. Strangely addictive stuff. Don't worry your head too much about KOTS, and give the following a try - Norwegian Wood, Hard-boiled wonderland, South of the Border West of the sun, A Wild Sheep chase and A wind up bird chronicle. Be warned though - the last two will leave you pretty frustrated.

But don't give up on Murakami! There's a treasure to be discovered in his surreal, musical, magical world.

AK said...

There is nothing much we can do about the dilution during translation. But the fascinating aspect is that the translations themselves are awesome.

I mean the prose - there is a part about an adventure in the Mongolian desert in WBC that is just outstanding, then there is the conversations between the main character and the kid in Dance,Dance,Dance that come to my mind straightaway.

I started with Hard-boiled wonderland and was hooked straightaway. Dance, Dance, Dance and Wildsheep chase are parts 1 and 2 (loosely connected).

But yeah, not everyone will like Murakami. My brother called me crazy after he tried hard-bouiled. So..

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Hi Neets,

To be honest, it's your fascination for Murakami that made me pick the book :)
And yes, I'll try some of your suggestions before hastily shunning his books.

Let me check whose side I'll be on :)
Thanks for the suggestions.

Rinchen said...

Never read Kafka. Though always wondered how it would be, maybe its time for me to find out.

Sinu Kumar said...

‘Norwegian wood’ is the book that made him famous, and also depressed, which is supposedly ‘the book that everyone in Japan has read’.

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Now you know what NOT to start with!

Wow, that's some achievement, if that is true!

Jenny said...

Hi-I just finished reading this book too;I loved it! It wasn't the first time I'd read Murakami, but it was my favourite so far. I agree with AK about not looking for answers. It was confusing and strange butthat's why I like it; I'm odd! :)

Girl With Big Eyes said...

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the book. Maybe the difference is that - he is already one of your favourite authors :)

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