This is how it starts:
“I loved this book, and I know you’re going to love this book.” Had been said to me.
I was gifted this book in February this year by my best friend. (No, not on Valentine’s Day, You are wrong). And, I couldn’t begin reading it instantaneously due to its width. Then, I had been taunted like bazillion times about how disrespectful friend I am for such a valuable and thoughtful gift. Consequently, I made up my mind to start reading; Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.
This is one of the most inexplicable books I’ve read. It stretches the limitations of belief, and when it breaks through into the realm of pure magic, we discover the journey has only begun. Alternating chapters for each character, Murakami follows two seekers who seem to have nothing in common until blackouts bring them together, at least metaphorically. The story is told from two different angles. Kafka Tamura, who has named himself after his favorite author, is an unhappy 15-year-old whose mother left home, taking his elder sister, when he was almost too young to remember them. Encouraged by an alter ego known as “Crow”, Kafka decides to run away from Tokyo, where he lives with his sculptor father. Supported by the characters he encounters on his journey, he eventually returns home after his father is murdered. The second relates the story of Nakata, a mentally simple old man who gained the ability to talk to cats after an incident in his childhood. Following a fateful encounter, he too journeys across Japan, picking up along the way a young truck driver as a companion.
Central to the problem is the so-called “Oedipal prophecy” handed to Kafka by his estranged (or merely strange?) father, who may or may not be a cat-murdering flute-carver posing as a conceptual imitation of Johnnie Walker. When he leaves home, one of Kafka’s objectives is to find his mother and sister, though he has no information about them, no names, just a photograph of the family at the beach. Now, Kafka is fifteen years old and makes it clear that his hormones are right on track for a boy his age. So when he starts entertaining sexual fantasies of Sakura, who is about the right age to be his sister, he has to wonder if she is his sister. Receiving an actual hand-job from Sakura later in the book does not simplify matters. Still, there are qualifying factors: despite his fantasies, we don’t actually have confirmation that Kafka ever has intercourse with Sakura. And even if she is his sister, she was adopted, so the incest taboo’s quick-factor is lessened.
Nakata’s encounter with Johnnie Walker causes me as many headaches as Kafka’s dream about Sakura. Are we supposed to equate Johnnie Walker with Kafka’s father? I don’t know. Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders seem like two sides of the same coin, a self-identified concept that can assume forms but not manifest in any physical way. If that is the case, then Nakata could not possibly have killed Johnnie Walker—but perhaps Johnnie Walker is a concept connected somehow to Kafka’s father, and killing the concept killed the man. See? Metaphysical dilemmas for which Murakami has no answers. Kafka and Nakata’s stories come together in a wrinkle in time wherein one commits murder and wakes up with no traces of his involvement, and the other blacks out and comes to with a bloody T-shirt. Yet Murakami doesn’t overexert himself in finding the links between these two lonely souls; true to his passive protagonists, he allows things to happen in due course, without forcing his effects.
Not that I’m demanding answers. Books that seek to provide an answer to every little question end up laden with excess exposition. Moreover, Kafka on the Shore is not a straightforward narrative, and that is probably for the best. Still, there are some questions that really irk me. Exactly what does the “Crow” character represent? Part boy, part bird, all a figment of Kafka’s imagination… but I digress.
As someone who’s never taken philosophy beyond what was required of my exams, I suspect that much of this book was way over my head. But keeping that in mind, I couldn’t stop reading this book unless it was absolutely necessary (namely to sleep, eat, and work) and when I wasn’t reading it, I kept thinking about it.