Kafka on Shore

This week a read a  book that really made me feel something. A book I couldn’t stop reading. A book that touched my heart, and my soul, and made me feel amazed.

If I hadn’t read Anna Gavalda’s Billie earlier this month, I would say that this book is the first one after long long time that changed my world. But since I did read Billie, I can enjoy the fact that two books this month have shaken my world.

The book I’m talking about is Kafka on Shore by Haruki Murakami.

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, full to the banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.”

Starting from the first page, this book is hauntingly beautiful. I posted the quote above on my Facebook page, and my friend commented “welcome to the endless vortex of Murakami quotes.”  I totally understand that. I feel I could take any line from the book, and it would make a nice quote.

For my own shame I have to confess, that I have only read one Murakami’s work before this, and it was Norwegian Wood. I’ll compare the similarities of these books later, but I have to mention, that both of the novels were so beautiful, that I got chills, tears in my eyes, and my heart felt good and light. That’s all I need. That proves to me that the book is good.


However, I am struggling while trying to identify the genre of this novel. Is it a fantasy book, with its elements of magical realism? Is it an adventure? Is it a bedtime-story for adults? Probably all of that. Murakami breaks the genre limits, and won’t settle for being categorized strictly as something specific. What bothers me though, is that I cannot say if it is “highbrow literature” or just… a good novel. The truth is, Kafka on Shore is easy to read. The story is kind of fast-paced, the language is easy, it is very reader-friendly. You don’t need to think much while you read, you just enjoy the beautifully written phrases one after  another. It doesn’t request an intelligent reader, or really even challenge the audience. Well not at first, at least.

The books describes sex in detail, and shows talking cats. The narrator voice is either typical omniscient narrator, or it is told by Kafka. The narrative technique isn’t very unique, neither is the language or focalization. Every sentence is finished, every phrase has a reason to be there, that is true. Reading this book is like looking at a painting – or like standing next to the characters –  so alive it is. But besides that, I don’t find Murakami that “deep.”

And still Murakami is considered as one of the most appreciated writer of these days. He is expected to win the Nobel prize of literature any year now. Maybe it is the plots of the stories, that makes him stand out. Maybe it is the simplicity of his works that appeal to readers all over the world. Writing is not aimed for the masses, but anyone can enjoy it. That’s the magic.

I said that the story is not that deep. I feel a need to explain it. The problem is , that the story might be too deep. There are different ways to read it. You can only focus on the surface, and see the adventure novel. But that process leaves the reader with tons of unanswered questions. There are quite a few mysteries in the story, that need to be solved. My mistake as a reader was, that I was sure there’s going to be an explanation in the end. The book has over 600 pages, but I read it in one day. I skipped my lectures at school, to read the novel. I was anxious to know what happened to all of those school kids. 50 pages before the end I started to realize I might not get any answers. Murakami himself has said, that the answers can be found in the middle of the story, not in the end. It makes me want to read it again, this time focusing on the depth  of it, now when the surface is familiar. I know the story will open in a new way, when  I stop to think of the things instead of rushing through it. And I will probably understand the true story, the one that is meaningful.

I haven’t read much by Asian writers. Neither are there any classes about it in the Helsinki university, even though I study comparative literature. It was interesting to read something from a completely different culture, and still notice how similar things are. The novel was full of things, that belongs to Japanese culture. The spirit world, shinto, not to mention the way characters act and interact. But there was much western influence to be seen, eg. The Beatles, Beethoven, or repeated mentioning of Catcher in the Rye in Norwegian Wood.  It makes me feel, that Asians probably have more cultural knowledge of the world than the rest of us do. We know the western history and pop culture pretty well, but it is much harder to mention any books or composers that were popular in Japan in the 60s’. Yet they know their own culture, and ours too.

The question I ask myself, is what is it in Kafka on Shore that moved me so much? First I have to mention the style. Like I have said many times, it is beautifully written, and I enjoy it. Secondly, the story is fantastic. It is intrigue, exciting, and different. Thirdly, the mystery. The ghost of miss Saeki, the death of Kafka’s father, and the odd connection of Kafka and Nakata. They were getting closer to each other the whole time, without actually ever getting together. I really liked that. Murakami took  the high way: the path of no literature clichés.  I was worried that the murder of Johnny Walker would affect more on Nakata’s life. It would have been very typical that a ghost-like character like him would not have died, and would have come back to torture poor Nakata more. I also want to thank Murakami for keeping the story together. So many adventure stories get out of control in the end, and I lose my interest. I call that “The Pratchett effect” due to so many books by Terry Pratchett that completely get crazy in the climax. Kafka‘s last 100 pages are very intense. The entrance stone, limbo, and everything.. but it still makes sense, and to be honest – nothing bad happens. I enjoy that a lot. Things don’t have to get worse before they can get better.

The last things I am going to say, is that it’s too bad that the book didn’t come with a soundtrack. I’ve been listening to Beethoven’s Archduke trio, but the two chords of Kafka on Shore song torment me. I want to hear them. I want to hear the song. Maybe in my dreams…one day…

Responsibility starts in dreams.”


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