Thursday, December 05, 2013
Kafka on the Shore
Reviewed by OFW editor:
Carlos J Cortes
Published: February 01, 2014
“Kafka on the Shore” is Murakami at his finest, a master class on the glories and pratfalls of being human. The book is impossible to categorize; mind-bending and relentlessly readable.
Haruki Murakami is well known for his use of the fantastic in his novels, a chant to magical realism, although reading Borges, Bulgakov, Allende, or even Garcia Marquez—the Master of the magical realism genre—can serve only to prepare a reader for Murakami.
This book is a journey around the two distinct worlds of soul and fantasy; a trip into the regions of truth that have no room in the colorless reality we live in. It involves two main protagonists: Kafka, a 15 year old runaway and Mr. Nakata a mentally challenged private detective who manages to survive finding lost cats.
The foundation for the story is the myth from Plato's Republic about how people were originally joined in twos. The gods split them so they spend a life searching for their "other half". In this book, Kafka, travels while seeking to achieve what Nietzsche calls the most difficult task: becoming what one is.
The main characters in the novel, two diametrically different people are bound together with an unseen thread. They are in the centre of the plot, or rather they are the plot.
Murakami delivers a story that could be read as a fairytale; where people and times merge and
where mystery sets the ground rules; where the answer to every question is always close at hand, but not the one we expect it to be. His heroes are people with passions and secrets; kept hostage by feelings of guilt and loneliness. They are as lonely as one can ever get.
Oshima, a minor character and a modern day philosopher, declares: “Gays, lesbians, straights,
feminists, fascist pigs, communists, Hare Krishnas—none of them bothers me. I couldn't care less about the kind of banner they hold. What I cannot stand are empty people...”
This book is certainly not for everyone, and certainly not for herd animals or empty people. Some might find it too abstract or outlandish. It combines first-class literary storytelling with elements of fantasy and science-fiction without truly being a genre work. It's also a compelling story full of cultural references that enrich the narrative. Kafka on the Shore demands careful reading and, better still, reading several times to discover new angles and meaning in Murakami’s devilish sentence construction.
Murakami uses Nobel-level literature for a bold, brilliant, beautifully executed exploration of what’s awaiting when we choose to live in the here and now. His genius is a league all his own. He requires not simply that we suspend disbelief, but that, in addition, we suspend all belief as well. To fully enjoy such an adventure as he has created in Kafka on the Shore, demands that we wipe our mind clean. The less we believe ourselves to know, the more receptive we will be to the actuality of this work of art.
In short, I recommend this intellectual adventure to everyone who thinks it exciting to think differently than one did the day before, and is willing to continue to have one's thinking evolve to the point of devolution. I particularly recommend it as necessary reading for writers. Besides a breathtaking read, Kafka on the Shore is a master class in creative writing of the highest order. Fortunately, and perhaps this is the true gift that Murakami possesses, the author takes us time and again to the edge of reason and sense, only to pull us back just when we have been convinced that it may be best if we were to go ahead and plunge body and mind into the abyss.
An enjoyable read, by a master storyteller who takes the reader's breath away at every page, paragraph and sentence. Pure magic.
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