Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami

When you read a book, commonly there are two kinds of scenarios where you have troubles articulating your thoughts about it, one, the book is extremely bad and you don't want anything to do with it, two, the book is really good, so good that your will to analyze it further takes a break. However, there's another kind that lurks in the shadow — books that make you so profoundly bewildered that you lose words to weave coherent ideas around them. Good or bad, these concepts cease to function. Kafka on the shore is of that last kind. It has dreamlike quality, where conventional reasoning itself is absurd!


What is is about, I wonder. Is it a story where some aliens alter the things, open up portals and change people and their shells up? Is this a tale of an adolescent boy and his life's journey of growing up and finding his place, his calling, as well as exploring childhood traumas caused by desertion and unwanted fantasies born out of it? Or, rather, is this an elaborate attempt at finding the joy in things that are elegant, beautiful and things that are simple and common? Perhaps, it is a blend of said everything, including some more. Kafka on the shore is generally described as magical realism and I think that description fits well. Unlike, 1Q84, which was the first book by Murakami that I read and which felt like a straightforward portal fantasy tale, Kafka on the shore packs a serious punch. I don't like teenage protagonists who act beyond their age, but I cut this one some slack as it is laced with preternatural characteristics.

It is hard enough to give a synopsis of the story, as it stays aloof most of the time, maintaining separate narrative routes. One boy runs from home, takes the name Kafka (like the great writer of Prague); reports are passed around about a mysterious mass passing out of students for no apparent reasons, which happened many years ago and an old autistic guy named Nakata who lost half his shadow, who talks to cats and goes on a mysterious journey of his own. Makes perfect sense, eh?
I'm avoiding story elements in this article, because I believe a reader should experience them firsthand.

Nakata's storyline reminded me of writings of a bengali writer Sukumar Ray, who was the father of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. The similarities are not in the plot, rather in the atmosphere Murakami creates around Nakata. His tale and Kafka's tale are at the opposite end of the spectrum. The contrast is too great, one serves as an intellectual stimulation through ideas, the other channels innate human feelings and longing for a life that is truly free and worth living. At some point, the character Nakata regrets that he would like to live a normal life, like his corporate lackey brothers — but I think his life and his half shadows and the little things only he could do exuberate fragrance of a far richer, meaningful life.
He's also my favorite character out of the book. Every time his chapter came up, I felt a bit excited. His presence and unpredictability brought me joy.

Of course, there's this vast net of metaphors throughout the book and the book is filled with suggestive ideas regarding them and they ultimately play significant roles in the story. The boy named crow is his alter ego, a metaphor personified. Colonel Sanders, a concept personified. There's an iteration of oedious' prophecy, which I also took as a metaphor, naturally — while I understand some may see it in literal lights. Unless the author comes out and declares the nature of his writing, I'll be sticking to my metaphor theory. Additionally, I have my reasoning to support it, as one of Kafka's prophecy takes place in a dream and later it turns out, it actually did not happen in reality, or in any sort of magical reality.

I like that Murakami is au fait with all sorts of popular art culture, and his books are actually giving me reminders that I have not tried out a lot of things I've been meaning to. So, that's a huge 'yay' in my book.

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