Kafka, The Crow, and Myself

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is my review and reflection of reading Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami.  It took me a while to get around to reading this book, and now that I’ve finished it, I’ve got all sorts of musings.

At the outset, we are introduced to a fifteen-year-old boy named Kafka and to a boy named Crow.  We later learn that Kafka is Czech for Crow, and if crows are symbolic of the spirit of death, I wonder if Crow is Kafka but in another dimension?  Sorry, I’m getting in too deep, too fast.

We are also introduced to a story about a supernatural event that occurred some 60 years in the past in the forests of Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.  A group of children went mushroom hunting on a school field trip.  They all temporarily passed out, and when they woke up, they remembered nothing of the incident.  Everything was back to normal except for one boy named Nakata whose mind was wiped clean.

In the story’s beginning, the boy Kafka decides he needs to leave his father, and search for his mother and sister who left him when he was four.  He hops a bus and heads west to Takamatsu and stumbles across a strange sort of library where he meets Oshima and Miss Saeki.  A few days after coming to the library day after day, Oshima offers Kafka room and board at the library.  Kafka is surprised by their kindness and generosity (and so I am), but Oshima only says, “It’s all based on a very simple principle.  I understand you, and Miss Saeki understands me.  I accept you, and she accepts me.  So even if you’re some unknown fifteen-year-old runaway, that’s not a problem.  So, what do you think?”

Simultaneously, the now-old man Nakata (who can talk to cats but can’t read) has just murdered Johnnie Walker with a steak knife.  Of course, it is not really Johnnie Walker, but rather Kafka’s father and when Nakata goes to confess he’s done it, there’s not a speck of blood on his clothes, and yet it’s Kafka who wakes up covered in blood.

This is the point in the book where I think: Wait a minute!  Mr. Haruki Murakami, what are you doing to me?  Everything in this book is all about metaphor, and suddenly I think I am like Kafka.  I am in my adolescence, searching for something and craving adventure, and so I pick up Kafka on the Shore with Murakami as my guide.  I meet all sorts of strange characters: a teenaged runaway, an old man who can talk to cats, a hermaphrodite, a surfer dude, a trucker, and even other cats who can talk.  Everyone pretty much goes accepts everyone else’s weirdness, and I feel as though Murakami is saying to me: I accept you and your strange ways, so just accept mine for a while too.

Nakata skips town too, and hitchhikes west.  The trucker takes a liking to Nakata and soon forgets about his job and decides to follow the old man’s journey which eventually leads them to the same strange library where Kafka works.  Nakata goes to talk with Miss Saeki because this is what he must do, although he cannot say why (which is how he rationalizes all of his actions).  Miss Saeki has asked him to burn all of her writings, and says, “The process of writing was important.  Even though the finished product is completely meaningless.”  Is this some hidden meaning about the book?  About writing in general?

While Nakata is at the library, Kafka has gone into the forest and discovered a world through the “entrance stone” where time doesn’t exist.  Is it yet another dimension between life and death?  Is it a dreamworld?  Is it another layer of consciousness? Kafka meets the fifteen-year-old Miss Saeki there, and asks her lots of questions about the place and then asks, “Am I asking too many questions?”  And she replies, “Not at all.  I only wish I could explain things better.”  This is exactly the thing that drove me crazy throughout the book.  Is Murakami copping out by saying that all of the strange things he wrote cannot be explained?

I realize I’m leaving a lot of holes in explaining the plot, but I think the story lies in the philosophy of time and memory. At first, I was disappointed by the ending, feeling like nothing got explained.  What happened to Nakata in the woods that day?  Who really killed Kafka’s father?  What was that disgusting thing that came out of Nakata’s corpse?  (Side note: There were two scenes in this book that were so grotesque, I felt myself looking away and wanted to throw up.  A mark of a good writer when they can do that to a reader!)  And, did Kafka actually sleep with his mother and sister?  Perhaps a true Oedipal story after all.

While I don’t get any hard answers, I am chilled by the ending.  Kafka decides to go back to school, and gets on the bus to go home (or at least his new home).  Kafka wonders, “Did I do the right thing?  ‘You did the right thing,’ the boy named Crow says. ‘…you’re the toughest fifteen-year-old in the world.’  ‘But I still don’t know anything about life,’ I protest….The boy named Crow says, ‘When you wake up, you’ll be part of a brand-new world.’ ”  And then, magically, Murakami switches to second-person: “You finally fall asleep.  And when you wake up, it’s true.  You are part of a brand-new world.”

I am Kafka after all. ABSURD!

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