Thursday, May 12, 2016

295. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Usually, when I read a book I make an attempt at reviewing and sharing with my readers. Sometimes attempt fails. Sometimes it feels like smugness: why should anyone pay attention to you when there are a thousand splendid reviews on the same book. This feeling becomes worse when I am talking about a non-African book. Consequently, I am changing the tack today. Today, we are all going to review this beautiful, and yet unsettling, book together. Yes, you and I - we; that is, if you have read it.

Kafka on the Shore is a story of two strands: the story of the 15-year old Kafka Tamura around whose neck, or on whose head, lay a huge chunk of Oedipal curse; and an old Nakata who lost a large part of his mental faculties when he survived a long coma induced by strange lights somewhere in the forests during the World War II, when he was a child. Nakata, however, gained the ability to talk to cats and to make strange things happen, like making leeches fall from the sky.

Kafka on the Shore is not the usual story that seems to provide answers with nicely tied-up endings. In this, Murakami tested the boundaries of belief and of the novel itself. He stretched the horizons of reality and the paranormal. To western readers satisfied with realist novels, this book will not be interesting as they cannot imagine how people - like Johnnie Walker or Colonel Sanders - could just appear and act, the latter says he is just a 'concept'. These individuals will marvel how walking through a forest could lead you to a place that is between this world and the world beyond, perhaps Dante's Limbo. They will scratch their heads to understand how a self-confessed cat-killer could collect the souls of cats and make flutes with them or how a 'concept' Colonel could suddenly become a pimp. However, for readers used to Latin American literature and for African readers, this will not be difficult to fathom for these are the stories we tell every day.

Even though this book borders on the surreal, it purveys modernity. In it you will meet characters who discuss music - classical music, poetry, philosophy both Eastern and Western, among others; you will meet individuals with so much America in them that sometimes you will wonder if the book is set in one of these western countries instead of Nakano, Shikoku and those in between. There is even a transgender gay who dresses like a man and who was referred to with masculine pronouns throughout the book. Juxtaposing modernity and such 'absurdity' to get a novel so complex and yet so easy to read is not a task the novice novelist can attempt. It, truly, is the work of a master.

So I am inviting you to a discussion of the novel. What did you take from this novel? Did you like it? Anything you have to say is welcome. I will respond to comments.

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