Kafka On The Shore: A Spellbindingly Surreal Novel By Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami uses seemingly irrelevant series of events and occurrences to weave a gripping plot in ‘Kafka on the Shore’. These events sometimes are the normal natural day-to-day happenings and sometimes they border on the metaphysical world of dreams, hypnosis, animal spirits and other pseudo-realities. What starts as a boring detailed interview, report or letter ends up being a mind-bending thrill. Then there comes showers of fish and leeches, encounters with a ghost or a living spirit and other weird happenings. It may sound like themes borrowed from urban legends but it’s perfectly natural in this universe.
Two parallel stories are narrated in alternate chapters – one is that of Kafka Tamura and other is that of Nakata.
Kafka Tamura is a runaway from home, seeking freedom and independence, and perhaps searching for his long-lost mother and sister or vaguely put wanting to meet them at least once. He steals as many things from home as he can and travels to Takamatsu on his fifteenth birthday. He meets Sakura on the bus journey, a curious sort of girl who couldn’t be ignored. He lives in a low budget hotel under the pretense of an undergraduate researching for his paper at Komura Library. He does stretching exercises in his room, circuit training at the gym, buys box lunch at the station, takes the train to Komura Library, arrives at 11:30 am, chats a bit with Oshima at the counter about the ancient world or Franz Kafka’s short stories, reads The Arabian Nights or the complete works of Natsume Soseki, goes back to his room and jots down the day’s events in his diary while listening to his Walkman before retiring into his sleeping bag- pretty much the same routine every day. Everything changes when suddenly one night he finds himself lying on the damp ground in thick undergrowth, in unknown surroundings, his T-shirt soaked in someone’s blood.
Nakata was a victim of an assumed mass hypnosis during his childhood which had put him unconscious for days. The deep sleep took away his memories, his ability to grasp things, and all his social and mental faculties. In the present time, he was a middle-aged man with an unusual ability to speak with the cats. He lived in Nakano ward on government’s subsidy, known famously as the tracker of lost cats. His quiet uneventful life takes a violent turn when he meets Johnie Walker on one of the normal cat searching evenings.
Johnnie Walker– a dangerous sinister man- who speaks with Nakata through his giant dog- he catches varieties of cats, cuts off their heads and adds to his collection of cat-heads. He explains it is to create some kind of a special flute with the souls of cats- a flute that cannot be heard by normal human beings but can help him catch bigger souls- to repeat the process again until he’s the universe in his control.
Meanwhile, Kafka Tamura bonds well with Oshima, lives for a few days in his cabin on a mountain top nearby a dense forest, completely detached from society and civilization. He spends his time reading and exploring the forest paths. He shifts to a small room in the Komura library after he gets to work there, thanks to Oshima’s recommendation to Miss Saeki, the sole manager of the Library.
Oshima is a knowledgeable individual, helpful and kind. He saves Kafka from the police many times, tucking him away in the mountains in his solitary cabin amidst the greeneries for a few days. He helps him in many a dilemma where rights and wrongs are seemingly blurred. Miss Saeki is in her early fifties, lives a life of solitude in memory of her one true love who passed away ages ago in her teenage years. She is the singer of ‘Kafka on the shore’ – the vinyl that Kafka keeps on playing in repeat mode, savoring the melancholy and the sweet pain in the tunes. She is one of the pivotal characters in the novel.
Murakami has a knack for putting in interesting facts from books and around the world serving as analogies for his situations and circumstances. For example,” According to Aristophanes in Plato’s The Banquet, in the ancient world of legend, there were three types of people. People weren’t simply male or female, but one of the three types: male/male, male/female, female/female. In other words, each person was made out of the components of two people. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and never really gave it much thought. But then God took a knife and cut everything in half, right down the middle. So after that, the world was divided just into male and female, the upshot being that people spend their time running around trying to locate their missing other half.” The Banquet. Much later in a certain twist of events, we are informed that Oshima is the realization of the text.
There are so many turns of events that bring together the mortal and the spirit world. So many twists that make the reader think- where is this exactly leading us to? The entrance stone, the axis of time, these mentions make us wonder – does this story involves different realms? It’s all a blur towards the end- an illusion that can’t be separated from reality. The plot is mingled, the storyline is a maze. We know that eventually Nakata and Kafka would cross paths but how, and what would the conclusion be like is the question. The murder in between- Kafka’s father, the famous sculptor was killed in the middle of the night- makes things more complicated. And so many open threads and questions regarding the other characters persist too. Johnie Walker, the boy named crow, Miss Saeki, Kafka – all meet in some pseudo world through an unpredictable dreamlike sequence of free flowing events that have little or no meaningful connection. Some of the symbolism and metaphors were lost on me. Everything was hazy, like being in a trance or hypnosis. Would it all be brought to a well-deserved closure?
Author: Pratikshya Mishra
An engineer by education, Pratikshya is an IT professional by day and an aspiring writer by night. She’s an avid blogger. She passionately blogs on various books, KDramas, movies, fiction, occasional verses and other abstruse musings at Magic Moments. Reading feeds her soul; travel and music, her preferred mode of therapy; spirituality, a daily pursuit; and experimenting with food, a favorite pastime. You can find her sharing her latest inspirations, travel updates, and artsy creations on Instagram. Her writing ventures can be read here: Jodhpur Diaries.