Monday, March 3, 2014

Kafka on the ShoreKafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Haruki Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore" is an extended dream. Things happen in quasi-reality and are connected with each other in ways quite different than the causal and physics-based connections of the boring real world. The plot meanders around, shooting off in various directions and introducing new characters. Yet the further it goes, the more it remains the same. The Oedipus myth, the pains of growing up, and a murder mystery form a foundation on which Mr. Murakami's discourse on the metaphorical vs. real world is based.

"Kafka on the Shore" is a magical realism novel. In fact, it is not that magical - the unreality is basically limited to talking cats, mackerel and sardines rain, and flutes made of souls of dead cats. But the reality in the novel is structured in alternative ways. The author says it himself (about John Coltrane's solo), "the repetition breaks apart the real, rearranging the pieces". The causal and chronological web of connections is replaced with a structure where things are "like pieces of the puzzle that fit together."

Mr. Murakami is an extremely gifted writer. There are some hilarious fragments of prose in the book; I could not refrain from laughing when a young prostitute pleasuring Hoshino discusses finer points of Hegel's philosophy or when the two gender-equality seekers attempt to intimidate Oshima. Commentaries on various pieces of music, classical, jazz, and pop, are captivating. Most importantly, though, there are also many moments of magical and hypnotic beauty. The episode when Kafka, guided by the two soldiers, visits The Other Place, is deeply moving.

My main gripe about the novel is that it is just a random pile of stuff strung around the 'world as a metaphor' theme. Yes, the world and the life are random (as Heraclitus once said ,"The fairest order in the world is a heap of random sweepings"). Dreams are random too. Yet, I don't like literature being random. To me, a great work of art should provide an organization to the chaos of the inner and the outer worlds and thus transcend that chaos. I see "Kafka on the Shore" just as a mirror that reflects the human struggle for meaning. It is not a step toward the understanding. In a sense, the novel is a beautiful, yet empty shell.

Four stars. (One star added for Kafka's visit to the place deep in the forest.)

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