Sunday, October 17, 2010

Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore: Oedipus replayed

Kafka on the ShoreI like reading modern Japanese literature. I said this of Kazuo Ishiguro and Yasunari Kawabata's works, and I'll say this again of Haruki Murakami: I felt the peace and quiet. There's a certain kind of stillness to them, like a pond with waters undisturbed.

So maybe Kafka on the Shore is a bit overrated, but at least now I understand why my friends had given it the highest recommendations. Murakami weaves a tale that borders between reality and fantasy. There's a very thin line dividing the two realms, but he hops on either side with masterful fluidity. I like his prose, but I love his characters.

A 15-year old boy named Kafka Tamura leaves home one day to escape a prophecy: that he will kill his father and have incestuous relations between his mother and sister. It's Oedipus Rex all over again, alright.

It's this escape that drives him to a small prefecture in Japan where he works as an assistant at a library, falls in love with an old lady and her ghost, gets lost in a creepy forest with a small little community inside, and eventually finds himself and the things he's longing for.

As this happens, there's another story going on, too—that of an old man named Nakata. He's the dumb, no-read-no-write type, but he can talk to cats, and I mean that in the literal sense. After killing the crazy man who takes away the cats' souls, he takes the journey to get away. He doesn't understand why, but he knows he has to. Nakata, after all, is that type of man. He lives for the moment and decides at an instant, with a childish feeling that everything will turn out the way they should.

In his trip he meets Hoshino, one of my favorite characters. He's a truck driver who offers to drive Nakata to wherever he wants. Nakata reminds him of his grandfather; he comes to like the old man. He helps Nakata figure out stuff—like how to go about with the mysterious entrance stone. And he has some crazy adventures of his own. His naivete is his charm.

Without them knowing it, Kafka and Nakata's destiny are actually intertwined. How that figures in the story is part of the excitement that Murakami builds up throughout the book.

The book indirectly attempts to answer the question of whether we create our destiny or destiny creates us. It explores if it is ever possible to escape one's charted path—or if there is any to begin with. It asks whether there is a God who controls how things play out in this world. These questions are hard, so the answers he gives must be hard. Murakami uses metaphors to answer these questions. Sadly, though, Murakami misses the point; I'm saying that from a Christian worldview.

(If you should read this work, I have to warn you that it has a lot of sexual undertones.)

Murakami writes in a way that feeds your curiosity as you flip through the pages. Right now I feel like grabbing another one of his works. I understand the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is a good read. Any thoughts on that one?

6 comments:

  1. I've never read a Haruki Murakami. I only wonder, isn't Kazuo Ishiguro's writing really considered more British literature than Japanese? It's something for me to ponder :) Hi Lance! Have a lovely geeky sem break!

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  2. Talaga, Kay? Mabasa nga ulit. A geeky sembreak to you, too!

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  3. so that's what it's all about!

    i have both books, lance, pero hindi ko naintindihan pareho! LOL!

    all i can say is, kafka on the shore was easier to read than wind-up bird chronicle! ;)


    -pv

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  4. Hahaha, Paul! Basahin mo ulit. Baka may dumating na insight the next time around.

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  5. Hi Kuya Lance :D ito pala yung book na kinukwento samin ng prof ko sa Sociology, dito nanggaling yung Oedipus Complex. haha :) I'm interested in this book din po e kaso i dont have time to find one po. haha. as far as i know it really has a tragic ending. :P

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  6. Hi, Ruth! Great to see you here! Oo, it's a classic literary piece. I bought mine at a very cheap price (100 pesos or less than that) sa UP Shopping Center, but try looking for it in Booksale shops. Diyan nga nanggaling yung Oedipus Complex in psychology. And, yes, tragic ang ending. But that's what makes it . . . memorable.

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