For people who haven’t read the book:
Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami is a holistic experience of confusion, exploration and self discovery. Kafka Tamura wants to run away from his house, and that he does. Over the course of the book, we follow him as he explores himself while he explores the outer world. The characters are riveting, and embedded in Murakami’s absurdism so well that they will stay with you. When you connect with the characters, the story would not seem to matter anymore; but in this book, it does. Wordly exchanges stay with you as quotes from the book. There are talking cats and raining fishes. Murakami will move you to the edge of your mind and make you think what you want to think- this is the creative space he gives his readers. No answers or explanations are given for certain things- you are free to theorize, to fantasize. But his writing style may or may not gel with you. Reading his books is a creative, dynamic process, I’ve come to realize. It is not a linear pursuit for the end. So if you’re reading Murakami for the first time, you may get bored or want to put the book down. But trust me, don’t. Hang on just a little longer. You will find how wonderful a true blue Murakami book, one as popular as Kafka on the shore is.
For people who have read the book:
The experience of Murakami has taught me that reading his books is a creative process. Unlike other fictions, a Murakami book is not oriented towards leading you to a picture perfect conclusion where all the characters find closure and the reader understands everything. Sometimes you finish the book, but certain episodes, some conversations between characters remain with you, still an enigma. This is the true flavour of a Murakami book.
Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by the rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.
Kafka on the Shore is supposed to be his most popular one. I had absolutely no expectations from the book as I began reading it, because I felt I had not settled in with the concept of his writings too well (inspite of having read Norwegian Wood, Hard Boiled Wonderland & the end of the World and Tsukuru Tazaki). But this book consolidated for me what Murakami’s works really are: a process of self discovery.
Kafka Tamura wants to run away from home, and that he does. I immediately connected with the boy, for his teenage longing to escape his circumstance occurred to me one too many times too. He runs away from home and meets new people; through the course of his journey he makes friends with Sakura, Oshima, and meets Miss Saeki. Each one of us has, at one time or the other wanted to run away, and it gave me so much peace to read Kafka’s first person account of being away from home, being lost, and not knowing who he was. There is a certain solace in his confusion; perhaps the comfort of relating my own self to his character’s dilemmas. His motive for running away is this: his mother left him & his father when Kafka was only a child, and ever since, the boy has been distant from his father. Maladjusted at school, he had no friends either. After his desolation at a young age, Kafka depersonalises into a boy named Crow that perches on branches and says what the Kafka really needs to hear.
Memories warm you up from the inside; but they also tear you apart.
He meets Sakura on the bus, makes friends with her, but is not able to stay at her place for long because he considers it would be dependent and needy of him. He recognised the fact that he needed to fend for himself, now that he was away from home, and depend on no one. He discovers the library, meets Oshima and Miss Saeki. Having finished the book, in recollection, I believe that the library was really the place where he was supposed to be in the first place. Taking a train to Takamatsu, ending up exactly at that Memorial Library, Kafka was ordained to end up there- and meet Miss Saeki.
From the first time when he meets her, Kafka develops an affliction towards Miss Saeki. She is portrayed in such perfect reflection that I couldn’t help but understand the depth of Kafka’s feelings for her. But they were not only limited to her physicality. Later, I understood that there was some connection between Kafka’s and Miss Saeki’s souls, a connection that transcends human lives and understanding. Kafka plays around with the theory that Miss Saeki is actually his mother. He spends a lot of time mulling over this theory, and it is often reiterated that until he finds a counter argument the theory could be correct. But the end reveals nothing- Kafka explicitly asks her if she is indeed his mother, and Miss Saeki tells him (and the reader) that he already knows the answer. The thing I love about Murakami the most: he gives his readers space to imagine what could be, and why it could be. I liked to imagine that Kafka was her lover in a previous life, the boy in the picture.
Oshima is the manager at the library where Kafka later goes on to live. As the book progressed I found that Oshima was actually a woman; his gender neutrality is highlighted, but throughout the book he is referred to in masculine terms. His character is very well rounded and deep; he was the wit and intellect that Kafka lacked as a 15 year old boy. Throughout the course of the book, Oshima was there to guide and help Kafka as he traversed from being homeless, to living & working at the library, falling in love with Miss Saeki, living at the cabin to when he decides to go back home. Oshima brings a vivid clarity and balance to the unstable waves that seem to keep rocking Kafka’s boat.
There is a parallel storyline as well, about a boy named Nakata who loses his mind after a mysterious incident in his village during World War II. Nakata is eccentric in that he can talk to cats; but he can’t read or write. He becomes illiterate after the incident. The two stories move towards each other in an inevitable convergence, but Kafka and Nakata never meet.
As in other Murakami books, Kafka on the Shore is rife with the undertones of absurdism. I absolutely love it. His perspective of seeing things so differently, bringing out the ranging of possibilities and putting them out is astonishing and wonderful at the same time. Be it ten children passing out at the same time with no organic causes, fish & eel raining from the sky, or slime belching out of a dead man’s mouth. There is no limit to Murakami’s absurdism, and I think most of his readers are here for it.
Mr Hoshino, a lorry driver meets an old Mr Nakata as he is hitch-hicking, and the two set on their journey to go some place that Nakata will only find out about instinctually. The eventually find an “entrance stone” which Murakami does not explicitly describe. But we find that the stone flips over to open an entrance to what I like to believe an alternative world, or a place for souls that aren’t able to find themselves. Kafka saunters into the forest, in the middle of which he finds two soldiers from the second World War; they guide him from the entrance to a small village, scarcely populated and mysterious. It seems to be the place that is not the “real world”.
Instead, in this little village Kafka is escorted to a small cabin where he meets Miss Saeki’s soul (is what I like to think; she had died in the real world). She asks Kafka to go back to the real world and keep the painting she loved so dearly: Kafka on the shore.
This painting is very pivotal to the story line, the reader understands later. When Kafka starts living at the memorial library, there is a painting in his room of a boy, sitting by the beach. This painting had been gifted to Miss Saeki by her lover, and she took it everywhere she went. Kafka begins to have visions in the middle of the night: of a 15 year old sitting by the desk, and staring at the painting. He is absolutely enamoured by the girl, who he conjectures to be a reflection of a young Miss Saeki. We later find that it’s a painting of Kafka himself, which supports the conjecture that Kafka in his previous life was indeed Miss Saeki’s lover. He goes on to take the painting with him, back to Tokyo; partly because Miss Saeki gives it to him (in her will, and when they met in the little village) but also because when Kafka tells her he doesn’t know how to go on living anymore, she asks him to keep looking at the painting; just keep looking.
If you remember me, I don’t care if anyone else forgets.
I have a lot of things to say about the book. It made me wonder on so many levels, and on different topics too. Some sentences were so thought provoking that they’ve been turned into quotes. When it comes to lessons, I think this is what I take away from the book: sometimes when we are conflicted within, we look for resolutions outside.
Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you’re stepping into the labyrinth inside. Most definitely a risky business.
-Oshima (Kafka on the Shore)
We try to escape. Kafka, with his absence of motherly love and a cold distance from his father, leaves his home in seach of something. No one he encounters in the outside world replaces the warmth he lacked in his childhood, but the people facilitate him in inching closer to finding within himself a better, more mature Kafka. He emerges out of his runaway experience as something new. And meanwhile as a reader, I transform: I live the experience of reading Murakami by comprehending his words in my own unique way; so every time I read his books, it’s a different experience all over again.