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J.A.A. Purves

Kafka on the Shore (2002) - Haruki Murakami

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:)

Christian? I'm eager to hear your thoughts... Did you continue to find it compelling (much more, enjoyable) through the end?

Edited by David Smedberg

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:)

Christian? I'm eager to hear your thoughts... Did you continue to find it compelling (much more, enjoyable) through the end?

I've been hesitant to post here because

1) The book took me a while to get through, and by the time I was finished with it, I had a hard time remembering what my questions/observations about the earlier parts of the book had been. I'm thinking that the chapter-by-chapter approach to earlier discussions, which didn't seem to work, might be preferable in some ways if it helps me to put my thoughts down as I read through a book. I could have done that in handwritten/diary form and then typed up those notes, but I've never been that kind of reader. I know many readers love to jot notes in the margins of their books, to dog-ear pages, etc. That's never been my style. And that sort of thing doesn't sit well with the librarians!

2) I allowed myself to be pulled into the narrative despite some misgivings that the story might go no place ... well, I was going to write "redemptive," but the broader term that comes to mind is simply "satisfying." I sensed that I might be pouring a lot of time into a book without a payoff.

3) So why did I keep reading? Because I've come to believe that in books and movies and other forms of art, payoffs are overrated. The cliche is true: Sometimes it's more about the journey than the destination, and Murakami's journey had me interested enough to keep reading. The early pages with the school kids and the strange thing that happens to them was a fantastic hook, and I wanted to know more. I also liked Oshima and his/her relationship with Kafka, although Kafka himself was a bit hard for me to relate to as a protagonist. I'm only realizing that now as I type this -- guess there's a point to actually writing down our responses, huh? Miss Sakei was distant, but her character's role in the story became clearer to me as the novel developed.

4) I liked the idea of running away from home only to end up spending one's days reading in the library. Forget the running-away bit; the notion of whiling away our days in a library, reading and learning, seems romantic to me, but it also makes me wonder how many kids spend their days in libraries waiting for moms and dads, or nannies. I once read a book by a librarian about the librarian's daily work, and how the "regulars" would arrive at the same time every day. These included school kids who had nowhere else to go. The librarians disliked being made to take on the role of babysitters for parents who were at work and who had instructed their kids to use the public library as an after-school waiting area until the end of the work day. The kids would goof off, and would work out aggressions and energy built up over the course of their school days. But what if they pulled books off the shelf and read, as Kafka did? What if I'd done that on my bored-to-tears summer days growing up? Would I have knocked out books at the same rate as Kafka? Would I have had the patience, or the interest?

5) No one has discussed Nakata, probably my favorite character in the book. I felt a strange compassion for him, and I enjoyed his friendship with Hoshino. I suppose Nakata could be said to represent ... well, I don't want to speculate. I took his character straight, didn't think about Murakami's literary purpose beyond the plot mechanics, to which Nakata is essential. And I liked the way his story intersected with Kafka's.

How's that for now? My wife is about to arrive home with ice cream, and I want to watch "American Idol." So, I'll stop.

BTW, when I started this post I thought it would be one-sentence long, and would boil down to, "I didn't really get it."

Edited by Christian

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I have finished the book, but I really haven't been able to get my head around the whole thing well enough to write much about it. I think the book is a collection of interesting things that happen: some really disturbing, some that are darkly humorous, and some that are just plain weird. But I am struggling to come up with a sense of the what the book is about as a whole. I feel there is a lot intertwined with Japanese culture and religion and philosophy that I don't understand.

I do agree that the first half of the book is really engaging, but as things go on, the ending turns out to be a letdown, particularly because of Kafka the main character. I was sympathetic toward him in the beginning, and to his friendship with Oshima. But I was put off by the incestuous stuff toward the end. Although Murakami is a skilled enough storyteller to keep me engaged enough to hope for some kind of redemption. Then the end came, and all I can say is, meh.

I liked the friendship between Nakata and Hoshino. That is what kept me reading. I liked that Hoshino seems to have a kind of awakening, in learning the value of reading and in his realization that there's more to life than working a lousy job and random casual sex. But as amiable as Nakata was, I don't think his character arc received a true sense of closure.

So all in all, an intriguing but at times frustrating read. Although I will never think of Colonel Sanders the same way again.

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But as amiable as Nakata was, I don't think his character arc received a true sense of closure.

I've been told, but I don't know for sure, that Nakata appears in at least one other Murakami novel.

Edited by Persiflage

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FWIW, I picked up a copy today of Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, but am not sure I'm going to read it. The library has Norwegian Wood on audiobook; I think that might be my next Murakami.

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So why did I keep reading? Because I've come to believe that in books and movies and other forms of art, payoffs are overrated. The cliche is true: Sometimes it's more about the journey than the destination, and Murakami's journey had me interested enough to keep reading. The early pages with the school kids and the strange thing that happens to them was a fantastic hook, and I wanted to know more. I also liked Oshima and his/her relationship with Kafka, although Kafka himself was a bit hard for me to relate to as a protagonist. I'm only realizing that now as I type this -- guess there's a point to actually writing down our responses, huh?

This is why I really enjoyed the first half of the book as well. It was both fascinating and gripping. The problem, for me personally at least, was that it isn't all just journey. There is a "destination" Kafka arrives at in this book. As I understood it, it was a "destination" both predetermined and amoral.

BTW, when I started this post I thought it would be one-sentence long, and would boil down to, "I didn't really get it."

I'm tempted to say I didn't get it either. But I've been exposed to enough pantheism and determinism in my past reading, that I'm afraid I did get it. If certain things are true, then the ending, and Kafka's choices (which really aren't supposed to be choices as we understand them in our world) at the end, don't really matter. But it's saying the end doesn't matter that is exactly one of the things that bothers me.

But I am struggling to come up with a sense of the what the book is about as a whole. I feel there is a lot intertwined with Japanese culture and religion and philosophy that I don't understand.

I explained early in my reading how the book seemed to me to be about a pantheist and determinist view of the world. I get the sense that not everyone here agrees, but no one's really explained why yet.

Although Murakami is a skilled enough storyteller to keep me engaged enough to hope for some kind of redemption. Then the end came, and all I can say is, meh.

So I guess an obvious question would be why not just settle for enjoying the "journey" that Kafka takes in the book without worrying about the end?

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OK, let me try to condense my 3 pages of notes into something cohesive and more concise. And I think the ‘obnoxious ass’ switch in my brain is securely in the off position for the time being, so here goes:

- The notions of omens and dreams are fascinating in this story. My sense is that the omens discussed here are not otherworldly but are rather contained in human/sinful nature (p 11) and in the tragic mechanisms of the world (p 336). As Mimi the cat says, “This world is a terribly violent place. And nobody can escape the violence” (p 83). This violence may manifest itself in a bizarre wartime experience (Nakata), a mother’s abandonment and father’s cruelty (Kafka), or a lover’s senseless, violent death (Miss Saeki). Determinism or fate, in other words, is simply the ways things are, but each character has a choice in whether to react to this fate In a moral or immoral manner. One can become an empty shell waiting for death like Miss Saeki, or choose to enter the twisted labryrinth and find forgiveness like Kafka.

- Kafka’s abhorrent behavior in his dreams primarily indicates to me the utter baseness of which every single one of us is capable. It’s horrifying but true. ‘The world of the grotesque is the darkness within us’ (p 225-6). With all of his talk about repressed labryrinths and the mirroring of the external natural world of dark forests and deep wells, I think Murakami’s characters are telling us semi-plainly that ignoring this potential is perilous, leading to further bloodshed, evil, and intrapsychic misery. Ergo, the Yeats quote (p 132) stating, ‘In dreams begin responsibilities,’ and a page later, the comment that ‘what I imagine is perhaps very important for the entire world.’

- I disagree with the comment that the world of KotS is an amoral one. This seems pretty clear from the depiction of Kafka’s rape of Sakura, which Sakura labels repeatedly as wrong (pp 370-1), with Kamura’s semen likened to ‘some illegitimate child born of the darkness.’ Kafka’s murderous and sexually violent behavior is shortly thereafter described as having branded his curse even more deeply upon him (p 387). As the soldiers in the forest say, it’s hard to tell right from wrong sometimes, but we still have to do it (p 444).

- I love all the parallels and contrasts in Murakami’s writing, how for instance Nakata’s emptiness is contrasted with the emptiness imposed by civilization (p 328). How, also, each main character has his commenting koros: Nakata has his Hagita, while Kafka has Oshima. Murakami also seems to like deep wells in which one can get lost, a motif repeated in Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. The contrasting setup of an ethereal versus a more grounded woman is also repeated in Norwegian Wood – like Miss Saeki, one of the main women in Norwegian Wood pleads for the protagonist to remember her, above all.

- While the last hundred or so pages felt like a slog to me initially, in rereading my underlined passages, the book seems to cohere more effectively. It was touching how the loss of his mother’s love felt like a fundamental defect to Kafka, and how finding forgiveness made it possible for him to smile and cry by book’s end, yet still remaining the world’s toughest 15 year old.

- Effective, too, are the asides and pithy insights drawing from all sorts of literary sources: Haydn, Arabian Nights, Soseki, Plato’s Symposium, The Tale of Genji, etc. I starred and underlined Oshima’s comment on p 111: ‘You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart – or maybe we should say the work discovers you.’ Beautiful, too, when we see this exemplified in Hagita’s discovery of the Archduke Trio and Truffaut.

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Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down, Andrew. I appreciate the effort.

I also found the dreams and mystery at the beginning of the book fascinating. While I didn't particularly like this book, I'm not forgetting about Murakami. A number of his other books sound worth reading, and I look forward to trying them. I guess I just didn't understand the Determinist bit of the story. Kafka overcomes what he is fated to do by deciding to do it? How is that making a free decision. He knows he has to do evil so he chooses to do evil and that sets him free? This is what I don't get.

I do get that the crimes he commits in his dreams are reflective of the evil every single one of us is capable of. Our hearts and minds and imaginations are full of darkness, and therefore we often are guilty of imagining or fantasizing about evil in ways that - even if they didn't lead to action - still reflect upon our moral state. It is confronting this that I was looking forward to as I kept reading the book, and it was how the book dealt with it that left me with the impression of emptiness.

I'm willing to admit my impression of the book being amoral wasn't quite right. The characters do know right from wrong in this story. One of the reasons I liked Nakata was his ability to act to prevent wrong in spite of himself. I got the impression in the first place because Kafka's wrong choices didn't seem to matter at the end. But I could just be misunderstanding the ending.

I'm interested in the forgiveness element to the story - could you explain this more?

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Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down, Andrew. I appreciate the effort.

I also found the dreams and mystery at the beginning of the book fascinating. While I didn't particularly like this book, I'm not forgetting about Murakami. A number of his other books sound worth reading, and I look forward to trying them. I guess I just didn't understand the Determinist bit of the story. Kafka overcomes what he is fated to do by deciding to do it? How is that making a free decision. He knows he has to do evil so he chooses to do evil and that sets him free? This is what I don't get.

Thanks, Jeremy. I don't think I 'get' the determinism/free choice thing either, but by the same token, I don't 'get' the tension of predestination/free will in Christian theology either. To paraphrase Professor Gopnik's cheating/not-cheating student in A Serious Man, maybe I'm willing to embrace the mystery.

Then again, to judge by the dialogue between Kafka and his sister/not-sister in the rape dream, I don't think he's exactly set free by his violent choices, even if we don't have a satisfying closure/wages-of-sin ending to the story. She indicates, too, in one of their phone conversations that Kafka is existing in a very perilous state by associating with all of the strange, other-worldly people at the library.

I do get that the crimes he commits in his dreams are reflective of the evil every single one of us is capable of. Our hearts and minds and imaginations are full of darkness, and therefore we often are guilty of imagining or fantasizing about evil in ways that - even if they didn't lead to action - still reflect upon our moral state. It is confronting this that I was looking forward to as I kept reading the book, and it was how the book dealt with it that left me with the impression of emptiness.

I think I see what you mean here, and perhaps this is the source of some of my own dissatisfaction with the last hundred or so pages. Despite my praise of Kafka here, those last 100 pages took as long and probably considerably longer to finish than all of the preceding pages.

If I'm remembering correctly from the other Murakami books that I've read, his stories have a definite ending to them, even if they're not tidy or overly satisfying.

I'm willing to admit my impression of the book being amoral wasn't quite right. The characters do know right from wrong in this story. One of the reasons I liked Nakata was his ability to act to prevent wrong in spite of himself. I got the impression in the first place because Kafka's wrong choices didn't seem to matter at the end. But I could just be misunderstanding the ending.

Perhaps this is grace at play in Murakami's world, even if he wouldn't use that theologically-laden term. Towards the beginning of the book, one of the characters cites a Buddhist proverb about blessing/meaning found in chance encounters, and in a way, it's Kafka's chance encounter with his sister/non-sister on the bus that keeps him grounded and continues to extend kindness towards him, in spite of his neglect of her and then his horrific mistreatment of her in the dream.

I'm interested in the forgiveness element to the story - could you explain this more?

I guess I was thinking of my work with traumatized individuals or those who have suffered horrible losses early in life, whose experiences have left them numb intrapsychically and detached in relationships with others (or just utterly pissed off with the world and themselves). They may feel like the world's toughest 15- or 50-year old, but most people see them as cold, walled-off, or angry. Doing the hard work of deep, meaningful forgiveness - coming to terms with the emotions and consequences of their early experiences, letting go of bitterness and resentment - frees them to feel deep emotion and connect with others, free to feel affection, tenderness, and grief - free to smile and cry again.

Sorry if this is a bit rushed, but I wanted to use a bit of free time in a fairly busy week ahead to post a response to your comments.

Edited by Andrew

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This book has been short-listed as a nominee for the Atlantic's next read-along.

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With a boost from Murakami's Facebook page, Kafka on the Shore has been selected as the Atlantic's July book club choice! Keep in mind that this is how the Atlantic promoted its finalists for the choice (emphasis mine):

We're hurtling toward the end of the first month of our big, collective read-along. We've had a bang-up June reading Margaret Atwood's Blind Assassin. A complex tale of deceit, loss, and tragedies on more than one planet, we (and by we, I mean you) couldn't have chosen a better book for our inaugural 1book140. For July and August, however, we thought we'd try for something a tad lighter. For the next two months, then, we'll indulge in the time-honored tradition of the beach read: Books that pair perfectly with hot, lazy days and ice cold libations.

Yes, there's no better "beach read" than Kafka on the Shore, is there? :lol::lol::lol:

I can't wait to see the feedback. The discussion starts July 5.

Edited by Christian

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