Kafka on the Shore – A Delightful Burst of Literary Pleasure

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Kafka on the Shore was my first book into the magnificent literary world created by Haruki Murakami. It is divided into two parts; the first part talks about Kafka Tomura, a fifteen-year-old on the run from his father, a famous sculptor who had cursed him with a gruesome prophecy, whereas the second part talks about Nakata, an aging old man with a knack for finding stray cats despite his handicapped mind and his ‘quest’ to find a particular elusive stone. These two parts converge in the middle – sort of – as both the protagonist move from Nakano Ward to Takamatsu around the same time, and despite the fact that the protagonists never met each other; they did come across elements that related to one and another. 

The characters that Kafka meets are all related to him and his oedipal prophecy, with the exception of Oshima. His father had prophesized that Kafka would kill him, and have sex with his mother and sister. He runs away from home to escape the prophecy, with the endorsement of a boy named Crow, which though there wasn’t any further description of his character, appears to be Kafka’s inner-voice. (Kafka explains to Miss Saeki that his first name meant crow in the Czech language.)

He meets Sakura on his journey away from home and become friends with her. Upon awakening one night, disoriented, with a T-shirt soaked with blood and with no recollection on how he arrived at that place, Kafka seeks Sakura’s assistance as he had no one else to count on then, who then takes him to her house. When she gives him a blowjob that night, she tells him that he wasn’t allowed to penetrate her as she had a boyfriend. And though he had doubts that she was indeed his sister, during a turbulent night a couple days later when he had a sexually charged dream, Kafka dreamed that he was raping Sakura. Despite Sakura’s resistance and warning that she thinks of him as a brother, Kafka proceeds to rape her in his dreams, thus fulfilling the prophecy of having sex with his sister.

He meets both Oshima and Miss Saeki at a private library run by the Komura family, Miss Saeki’s would-be in-laws if their son had not died during a student riot. Miss Saeki had ‘stopped’ living in a sense ever since her lover was killed in the riots. Miss Saeki’s meeting with Kafka was seemingly ordinary, until the day when he was visited by the spirit of a fifteen-year-old Saeki and immediately fell in love with her. On another day, he was visited instead by Miss Saeki, who appeared to be sleepwalking. She undresses and sleeps with Kafka, completely oblivious to her actions as she was still asleep.

Talking to Miss Saeki a day later, he mentions to her that he had fallen in love with her despite her being over fifty and him being a mere fifteen-year-old. He mentions his father’s prophecy and asks Miss Saeki if she would sleep with him. That night, she visits him and takes him to the beach, the place that was in the painting that hung in his room in the library. At a particular moment, she asks, “Why did you have to die,” to which he replies, “I couldn’t help it,” giving the readers the impression that Kafka was somehow a reincarnation of her dead lover. They proceeded to make love that night and also the night after – up until Monday morning, even though she had denied that she knew his father (an answer which he felt was given to him too soon without her thinking about it). When she asked him who is he and why does he knows so much, he answers that he is Kafka on the Shore (the song that she wrote as a teenager), and both her lover and her son, except all the answers wasn’t from his own voice but from some internal monologue (probably from Crow). This fulfils the prophecy of having sex with his mother.

Nakata, on the other hand, was once a brilliant student; he was transferred to a village by his parents after their hometown was bombarded during the war. On a particular day, he had some misunderstanding with his teacher, who proceeded to slap him to a point where he fainted from the effect of the blows. However, a moment later, all the other students in his class that had followed on that outing fainted as well, without any particular reason. The reason for their sudden loss of consciousness was still a mystery, five decades later, however, as the result of his three weeks in coma, Nakata lost his studious mind, having no recollection of even his name and ended up living a life of a simpleton, collecting subsidy from the government and working in secret as a cat-finder.

In the course of finding a missing cat, Nakata comes across Johnny Walker, a nickname used by Tomura’s father. Tomura’s father has been catching the cats on the streets and beheading them for the purpose of collecting their souls to create a giant flute. However having grown tired of the life he has been leading, he asks Nakata to kill him instead and proceeds to behead a few cats in front of Nakata. Raged, Nakata kills him in order to stop him from beheading the cats. As a consequence of his actions, Nakata lost his ability to speak to cats. He tries to surrender himself to the police yet was not taken seriously. He left the police station after having forecasted that it would rain sardines and mackerel the next day.

The police discovered the body of the dead sculptor and began to investigate the death of Kafka’s father, at the same time begin searching for Kafka’s whereabouts. Kafka comes to know about his father’s death through Oshima and was stunned to realise that his father’s death coincided with the day he lost consciousness and awaken to find his T-shirt bloodied. He had previously asked Oshima if Oshima believed in spirits being able to leave the body for a while and return later while the person was still alive and later on explained that there were times in the past that he lost recollection of his memory or what was happening and ended up injuring other students, with the thinking that he had done the same thing to his father. This gives the appearance that Kafka has fulfilled all three of his father’s prophecy of him.

When it does rain sardines and mackerel the next day, Nakata had already left town. Hitch-hiking all the way to Takamatsu, he meets Hoshino, who finds himself strangely attracted to Nakata and his journey. Nakata was searching for an entrance stone, which was brought to him by Hoshino after an encounter with a person going by the name Colonel Sanders. He visits Miss Saeki, who seemed to have been waiting for him all this while, which was why she never left the town. The entrance stone opens up a world, in which lies the land in between. With the opening of the world, Nakata subsequently passes away, leaving Hoshino to close up the entrance, which he had no idea as to how to do so.

The land lies in the woods behind Oshima’s house, one which was discovered by Kafka when he was hiding in Oshima’s house as to avoid the police. Kafka had no idea of the other world, however, he was not surprised by its existence. He ventures into the world and meets the fifteen-year-old Saeki, who tells him that she will visit him as long as he needs her. He was visited then by the present-day Miss Saeki, who when questioned about her identity as his mother, tells him that he knows the answer. She had opened up the world once long ago as she feared the time she spent with her lover would be short-lived, which was why it felt as if she had ceased to live past the age of twenty. She asked him to return to the present world, and to remember her because as long he remembered her, she didn’t care if anyone else forgot. She apologises for having abandoned him and seeks his forgiveness, which he grants her. Kafka proceeds to leave the land in between after she vanishes and returns to the present time, where he finds out a few days later through Oshima that Miss Saeki had passed away, leaving him the portrait of the boy that hung in his room (which she had requested him to carry along with him during their talk in the land in between).

Hoshino, on the other hand, finds out that he now has the ability to talk to cats and with the help of one of the cats, manages to close the world and kill the entity that had crawled out of Nakata. He leaves Nakata’s body with the stone, leaving their shared lodgings as a brand new man. At the same time, Kafka calls Sakura one last time, making his intention to return to his hometown and finishing up his studies known. As he travels back, he has a conversation with the boy named Crow once more and falls asleep.

The novel took me roughly about three days to finish – which by far is a record for me as I usually finish my readings in one sitting. The start of the story was a big draggy for my taste – it is probably because of Murakami’s Japanese way of storytelling, which is often slow and winding. However, after a hundred pages into the book, I find myself strangely drawn to the character of Kafka and his internal musings. I couldn’t justify the need to put down the book and concentrate on my everyday living – I just had to know how the story would end.

Murakami takes his readers on a ride with this story – undoubtedly the story of Kafka Tamura is the focal point of this story, even though Nakata was given equal importance as well. It can be seen how each and every character in this story was ultimately in a position of making the prophecy come true, that there was no escaping something if it was fated. The devices that Murakami uses to convey his story is often spellbinding and it can be seen in this novel too – as usual, magical realism, sexuality, humour and suspense. Music is used as a method of redemption, as seen with Hoshino’s reinvention of himself after listening to the Archduke Trio and learning more about classical music. We are also introduced to Murakami’s in-depth knowledge of various different genre of knowledges as the conversations that the characters have often delved into phiosophy, literature, music and also spiritualism.

To be honest I had wished for a happy ending – which of course in my mind would mean that Kafka would end up being with Miss Saeki (which also meant an indirect endorsement from me on an incestual relationship (if Miss Saeki was indeed his mother)). Then again, having heard about Murakami’s style of writing, I knew I was in for a rollercoaster of emotions. I somehow wish though that I could still live in that world that Murakami had created – just for a lil’ longer.

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