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Kafka on the Shore (2002) - Haruki Murakami

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Here we go. I'm very interested to see how this progresses. I'm ordering the book right here from Amazon. Looks like you can get your own new copy for around $10, but you can order a used copy for around $5 on the same link.

I expect I'll receive my copy and start reading it within the next week. I'll start posting thoughts and questions designed for discussion after I read the first 3-4 chapters.

Just for clarification's sake, this is not a book about the philosopher/author Franz Kafka, although I'm guessing that the fictional character's name, Kafka Tamura, is not a coincidence.

Edited by Persiflage

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This book's title always makes me think of Philip Glass' opera, EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH.

Anyway, I'll have to run out and pick up a copy. My roommate read this in college and was quite enamored with it.

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Thanks for organizing this, Jeremy - I can't find my dog-eared and underlined copy, so I picked it up from the library while waiting for my replacement to arrive from Amazon.

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I read this last June. I'll probably follow along in the discussion, but I'm not planning on re-reading it. I liked it enough though. I'm curious to see how people react to some of the content of the book.

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I picked up a copy, so I'm willing to give this a try. Sounds interesting.

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I'm curious to see how people react to some of the content of the book.

Haven't read this yet, will be checking a copy out of the library today. I am curious about your curiosity, but I'm afraid to ask because it might involve spoilers. :P

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Well, look at that, looks like a number of A&F'ers actually still read books after all.

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I've requested a copy to be transferred to my local library. We'll see if it arrives in a reasonable time.

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I just sat down to read the first 5 chapters or so last night, and read the first 18 chapters instead.

I was looking for a good place to stop and write down my thoughts, but it doesn't look that's going to happen. This is my first book by Murakami, so I'm not sure what he does in his other books, but at least for this one he has pretty much mastered the art of ending each chapter with an ending that really makes you want to read just one more chapter. But wait, the next chapter is a different storyline picking up where that last chapter left off 2 chapters ago. So looks like you need to read just 2 more chapters before taking a break. But then ... and etc.

I'll post some thoughts and a couple relevant excerpts later today after church.

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I just sat down to read the first 5 chapters or so last night, and read the first 18 chapters instead.

I've read the first five chapters and am enjoying it so far. The suspense and the puzzle of trying to figure what is going on is intriguing me as much for now as the language, which probably shouldn't surprise me with a translation.

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Alright, just a quick note, let's try and use a little discernment to keep out major plot spoilers from the discussion at least for the month of March. I realize some will be reading slower than others, and I don't want the book discussion to spoil anything right away. That being said, you honestly can't have a completely decent book discussion after finishing the book without revealing some spoilers, so at some point next month, I'll put a big spoiler warning in the sub-heading to this thread and, after that, we can talk about anything and everything.

I've only heard a little bit about Murakami, but I'll have to say I'm already in love with his writing. Yes, his writing does have a dreamlike quality to it like I'd heard. His descriptions of things like the library or the forest are worth double-underlining and saving to read again later. I realize it's a translation, and I also realize that every English translation of a foreign work can't be along the quality of Alexander Pope's renditions of Homer, but Philip Gabriel hasn't done too bad. Hell, it's a night and day difference between Gabriel's translation here and Reg Keeland's translations of Stieg Larsson. Again, Murakami sounds like he can sweep the floor with Stieg Larsson's writing any day of the week. It's always lovely finding a new author who can actually write. So I'm very happy to just be beginning Murakami's works.

I'll begin with two main thoughts, on the philosophical side for now ...

First, whenever I read a thoughtful/philosophical novel, I usually try to get a grip on what worldview the story is based in. Doing so usually helps me understand where the author is coming from, and helps make sense of things that often don't make sense before figuring this out. As I understand it, there are basically five main philosophies/religions/worldviews (generally speaking) that every single writer on the planet is going to end up in:

1 - Theism - there is one God

2 - Atheism - there is no God

3 - Polytheism - there are many gods

4 - Pantheism - everything is god / an impersonal force is in everything

5 - Agnosticism - there's just no way of being sure

Any novel that discusses philosophy is going to end up falling into one of these camps. There are always little hints. And while I understand different characters can espouse different philosophies, eventually a trend is going to emerge that points more in one direction than in another. I'm in the middle of chapter 22 now, and I'm getting the sense that Murakami, or at least the world in this novel, is pantheistic. Clues so far include ...

Nakata let his body relax, switched off his mind, allowing things to flow through him. This was natural for him, something he'd done ever since he was a child, without a second thought. Before long the borders of his consciousness fluttered around, just like the butterflies. Beyond these borders lay a dark abyss. Occasionally his consciousness would fly over the border and hover over that dizzying, black crevass. But Nakata wasn't afraid of the darkness or how deep it was. And why should he be? That bottomless world of darkness, that weighty silence and chaos, was an old friend, a part of him already. Nakata understood this well. In that world there was no writing, no days of the week, no scary Governor, no opera, no BMWs. No scissors, no tall hats. On the other hand, there was also no delicious eel, no tasty bean-jam buns. Everything is there, but there are no parts. Since there are no parts, there's no need to replace one thing with another. No need to remove anything, or add anything. You don't have to think about difficult things, just let yourself soak it all in. For Nakata, nothing could be better. (pg. 85)

"... I've always been impressed by your insights, and I find the worldview that runs through all your publications very convincing - namely that as individuals each of us is extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a prototypical memory. There have been times in my own life that I felt exactly the same way." (pg. 96)

"Are you a foreigner, Mr. Johnnie Walker?"

Johnnie Walker inclined his head. "Well, if that helps you understand me, feel free to think so. Or not. Because both are true."

Nakata was lost. He might as well be talking to Kawamura, the cat. "So you're a foreigner, but also not a foreigner. Is that what you mean?"

"That is correct."

Nakata didn't pursue the point. (pg. 126)

"Connections change too. Who's the capitalist, who's the proletarian. Who's on the right, who's on the left. The information revolution, stock options, floating assets, occupational restructuring, multinational corporations - what's good, what's bad. Boundaries between things are disappearing all the time ..." (pg. 191)

"But it's a hopeless situation."

"That depends," Oshima says. "Sometimes it is. But irony deepens a person, helps them mature. It's the entrance to salvation on a higher plane, to a place where you can find a more universal kind of hope. That's why people enjoy reading Greek tragedies even now, why they're considered prototypical classics. I'm repeating myself, but everything in life is metaphor ..." (pg. 200)

Second, looks like this story is also turning out to be pretty deterministic, at least that's how it's seeming to me so far. Fate is going to be an important part to this story. You never know, some of the characters may turn out to have free will towards the end, at least I sure hope so. Clues include ...

"'Even chance meetings' ... how does the rest of that go?'

"'Are the result of karma.'"

"Right, right," she says, "But what does it mean?"

"That things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest of events there's no such thing as coincidence." (pg. 33)

"But the whole thing's all fixed already. I can't just suddenly say I quit and stop what I'm doing." (pg. 142)

"Kafka, in everybody's life there's a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can't go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That's how we survive." (pg. 161)

"Listen, Kafka. What you're experiencing now is the motif of many Greek tragedies. Man doesn't choose fate. Fate chooses man. That's the basic worldview of Greek drama. And the sense of tragedy - according to Aristotle - comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist's weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I'm getting at? People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues. Sophocles' Oedipus Rex being a great example. Oedipus is drawn into tragedy not because of laziness or stupidity, but because of his courage and honesty ..." (pg. 199)

"My father told me there was nothing I could do to escape this fate ..." (pg. 202)

"My father polluted everything he touched, damaged everyone around him. I don't know if he did it because he wanted to. Maybe he had to. Maybe it's just part of his makeup. Anyhow, I get the feeling he was connected to something very unusual. Do you have any idea what I mean?"

"Yeah, I think so," Oshima says. "Something beyond good and evil. The source of power, you might call it." (pg. 203)

So there we go, just a couple lines of thought I'm developing as I keep reading this.

Edited by Persiflage

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Persiflage, I will enjoy reading on with your comments in mind. I didn't have access to the internet most of last weekend, and just started reading the book with no background beyond vague memories of skimming the reviews last decade.

Thanks for the framework for further progress.

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I'm glad you're digging it, Jeremy. I'm still hemming and hawing over whether to wait another week till my copy arrives from Amazon so I can underline and dogear the heck out of it, or whether to dive into my library copy.

I read your comments with interest, in the context of just having finished an earlier book of Murakami's, Norwegian Wood. Though NW seems less philosophical and more interested in capturing an era and a sense of grief for lost relationships and the cost of growing up, your comments referencing Greek tragedy and pantheism reminded me of a couple of bits in NW that I'd underlined:

- in one conversation between the narrator and a fellow student, the latter pointedly quotes Euripedes' Electra: 'No god hearkens to my helpless cry.' What makes this more significant is that I think this may be one of only two literary quotes in the whole novel.

- one of the narrator's key meditations near book's end considers death as 'not a decisive element that brought life to an end...but one of many elements comprising life.'

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- in one conversation between the narrator and a fellow student, the latter pointedly quotes Euripedes' Electra: 'No god hearkens to my helpless cry.' What makes this more significant is that I think this may be one of only two literary quotes in the whole novel.

Well, the literary quotes in Kafka on the Shore keep showing up nonstop.

Looks like I've got about 5-6 chapters left and I'll have finished this. However, instead of posting more comments on the rest of the book, I'll wait for some of the rest of you to catch up to the first 20 chapters or so, and we'll take and discuss this a portion at a time. I've written down some other thoughts so I don't forget them and I'll save them for later.

I'm definitely really interested in what everyone thinks. Make an effort to post here when you get the chance.

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My copy arrived in the mail today, so I'll be starting it this weekend.

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I haven't gotten my copy yet. :(

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Murakami's assistant posted this message on Murakami's Facebook page:

Dear All, Since the big earthquakes hit Japan in the afternoon of Friday, 11th March 2011, we have received so many heartfelt messages from all over the world and truly appreciate your sympathies and encouraging words. I would like to reply to each of you separately, but please allow me to send this message to you all on my return to the office after the anxious weekend. Luckily, Haruki Murakami and his family were away from Japan when the earthquakes struck and are still in a safe place. Also, all his staff members in Japan are okay and have got no direct damages. As you should know from media reports, the earthquakes and tsunamis have caused serious damages in northeastern Japan. So far, Tokyo is safe, though we are still frightened by aftershocks and possible induced quakes. I really hope that as many lives as possible are saved and believe your prayers reach suffering people in this country. With many thanks and best wishes, Assistant to Haruki Murakami (3/14/11).

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I began reading the book over the weekend, while at my in-laws'. I'm four or five chapters in. I'll wait to read earlier postings here until I've had more time to absorb what I've read so far.

BTW, can anyone comment on the cover image without giving away plot details? The image can be seen at the book's Wikipedia page. I can't remember, if I ever knew, how to embed images in these posts.

Edited by Christian

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Nearly two weeks after receiving my copy of the novel, I'd read all of 35 pages of it. Then, last night, I had some long waits for the Metro, and a ride of several minutes each way on the train. I'm now on page ... drumroll, please! ... 109! That's the beginning of Chapter 14 in my editon.

Surprises so far:

I've had a few moments where the writing struck me as a bit ... well, moments where I was reminded I was reading a book, and one that was translated (right? Murakami doesn't write in English, does he?). A few moments have seemed a bit clunky. But just a few. Don't recall any "clunkiness" in the other Murakami book, which I listed to in audio form, and which is considered a lesser work of his, if more recent.

The book feels closer to science-fiction to me than to any other genre. Don't laugh! (Then again, I don't read sci-fi, so what do I know? Feel free to laugh.)

Ooops! Wife just walked in and reminded me that I have a haircut appointment. Gotta run!!

Edited by Christian

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Glad you were able to make some progress on the book, Christian. I'm about 300 pages in, but my inclination is to wait on making any major comments till I've finished.

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I've gotten through about 250 pages so far while on a long airplane trip last week. I'm not sure as yet what to make of the metaphysical stuff going on. I will have to see how this all plays out in the end before I can really comment on it. There is one scene that reminded me so much of a similar scene from the film "Magnolia", i wonder if this is a coincidence:

leeches raining from the sky

One thing that has struck me so far is that I thought of the hikkomuri culture that is touched on in some Japanese works: of people who through their own choice or other circumstances, live very isolated lives. The two main characters both live isolated lives: Kafka, the runaway, spends his days reading in libraries, and Nakata lives alone after the mysterious childhood ailment that befalls him. And at the library he regularly visits, we see him interact with a couple of characters, Oshima and Mass Saeki, who seem to live isolated lives as well. I think some of the metaphyisical or otherwise strange things going on may be ways of isolated souls struggling to escape to communicate with someone or something else, somehow.

I'll have to see how this all turns out before I can make any definitive statements. I'm trying to read this and Jeffrey's new book as well, and now that I'm at home, I have to grab reading time when I can.

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I'm trying to read this and Jeffrey's new book as well, and now that I'm at home, I have to grab reading time when I can.

Slight digression, but what does "now that I'm at home" mean? Have you been away? Sorry if you've posted about this elsewhere; I lose track. If you meant only that you're "now ... at home" as opposed to "now at work" or something, then I apologize for reading into the comment.

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I've finished reading, and my thoughts run a bit long (about 1500 words) so I've posted it on my website. The first thing I've published there, 'smatter of fact.

I could use many adjectives to describe “Kafka on the Shore” (from here on out, I’ll just say “KotS”, and trust you’ll know what I mean). It is hilarious. It is disgusting and offensive. It is exciting. It is confusing and frustrating. My overall impression of it is negative, and I’ll try to explain why below. The first part of this post contains no spoilers. Then, I’ll warn you before we transition to the second part, where I’ll go into specifics about conclusion of the story.

I look forward to hearing other people's responses/responses to my response.

Edited by David Smedberg

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Slight digression, but what does "now that I'm at home" mean? Have you been away? Sorry if you've posted about this elsewhere; I lose track. If you meant only that you're "now ... at home" as opposed to "now at work" or something, then I apologize for reading into the comment.

I flew to Disneyland last week with my brother and his kids. We had a lot of fun, running around and doing rides and stuff. Being home refers to getting back into the routine, going back to work. Not chasing Mickey Mouse. But chasing Mickey Mouse was fun. :)

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I've finished reading, and my thoughts run a bit long (about 1500 words) so I've posted it on my website. The first thing I've published there, 'smatter of fact.

Awesome. Give me a day or two to digest this, and we'll see about starting up this discussion.

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