A power of stories is their ability to transport readers to other places and times. Murakami does this very well for me — his stories are mesmerizing. And Kafka on the Shore is his latest book to have that effect on me.
An overview of the book …
At 15 years old, one of the main characters disguises his first name (to be called Kafka Tamura) and runs away from home. He wants to get away from his father and tries to escape the Oedipus Rex prophecy that his father put on him. Talk about a heavy burden to carry. Kafka wants to find his mother and sister, who left the family when Kafka was four.
Kafka’s chapters alternate with those of Satoru Nakata, who is quite an interesting character. During World War II, Nakata was in school when strange event happened. He and his schoolmates were hunting for mushrooms in the woods. All the kids lost consciousness and fell to the ground. However, the teacher was not affected. After the teacher ran to get help and returned to the kids, they started waking up. But not Nakata. He remained in a comatose state for a while. And when he eventually woke up, he could neither read nor write.
From that background, leap to the time of the book’s main action. Nakata is in his sixties and still can’t read or write. But he can talk to cats. Which helps him find lost cats for people in his neighborhood.
Back to Kafka Tamura: he journeys to the island of Shikoku, to the city of Takmatsu, where he finds a private library. He enjoys reading in the peaceful place and befriends the librarian Oshima. Miss Saeki runs the library and spends much of her time in her office. Miss Saeki also has an interesting background, which Oshima tells to Kafka.
Murakami’s stories typically contain oddities. In this book: fish and leeches fall from the sky … spirits appear in the form of Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders … soldiers from World War II haven’t aged … another world/alternate reality opens up.
Also, this book contains portions that may cause some to not pick up this book: incest by the main character, and another character eats still-beating hearts of cats. As for the second action, that character has a reason for doing it. Still, it’s a rough chapter. Murakami doesn’t gloss over gruesome parts.
Kafka on the Shore has many portions that are food for thought. The quote below is from Kafka’s alter ego (“the boy named Crow”), who gives advice to Kafka in the beginning of the book. I thought the message was moving. To me, the message is about growth after enduring a struggle — it’s when you are either forced out of a comfortable place or you choose to venture out of that comfort.
“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. Why? 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.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Quote from: Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Alfred A. Knopf. 2005. pp. 5-6.
After violet lightning struck the tree by our house, oddities started in our family. Levitating coffee cups. Sis would snap her fingers and random objects burst aflame. An entity named Virkiv sometimes spoke through me. Word spread through the nearby town, around the county, farther away from us. Then armed men broke down our door, dragged our family into vans, drove us to a laboratory.
The scientists who study my family tell us that our house is still being examined. As are we. The scientists claim a new house will be given to us after the examinations are finished. But they don’t say when that will be.
Certainly we miss the old house, all the familiar rooms and the memories that happened within them. As well as the land around the house, the field and slice of forest. Now our home is this lab, which has a sad, blank character.
On the first day of school, the teacher asked the elementary school students to say one thing about themselves.
Starting in the front row, each student spoke. Some spoke energetically, some softly. Olivia Murrell’s favorite color: purple, Noah Hillman’s favorite food: pizza, Sofia Valdez’s favorite movie: The Wizard of Oz, Makayla Weber’s favorite food: cake, Dominic Rowley’s favorite color: red, Xavier Carrasco’s favorite baseball team: Los Angeles Dodgers, Ellie Ishida’s favorite holiday: Christmas, Anthony Arborghast’s favorite animal: zebra.
The teacher help up her hand and said, “Let’s take a little break there, please. I have a question. Anthony Aardvark Arborghast, could you tell the class why your parents picked your middle name? I’m very curious.”
Anthony Aardvark Arborghast was a shy boy and his voice was low, but he managed the explanation. “My mom and dad wanted my middle name to be an animal. But they couldn’t agree on which animal. My mom’s favorite animal is the aardvark, and my dad’s favorite is the albatross. They had a contest for who could pick my middle name. They played one round of miniature golf and one round of gin rummy. They worked on the crossword puzzle in a Wednesday edition of the New York Times to see who could get the most answers. They jumped to see who could jump the farthest. They wrote essays about the possible dangers of technology. Three of their friends served as judges to pick the winner of that one. They took a test of real-world math, which included household finances, sales tax, and statistics in news stories. And finally, they made funny faces and funny voices to a friend to see who could make the friend laugh louder. They agreed on a complicated scoring system for all those contests to see who won the whole thing. My mom won.”
Silence in the classroom as the teacher and students took in all of what Anthony Aardvark Arborghast had said. The kids looked around at each other. The kids looked at Anthony Aardvark Arborghast.
The teacher said, “Well, Anthony, I think you have interesting parents.”
“Weird is more like it,” Anthony Aardvark Arborghast said.