Last week after realising that I was miserably broke as usual and telling myself that I couldn’t or shouldn’t spend 600 rupees on another book, I found myself walking in a sort of haze to one of the assistants at Landmark and asking for Murakami’s latest book, Kafka on the Shore. The book came out in Japanese in 2002, but it took about two years for the English version to hit the shelves. Settling down nicely over the weekend, with a minimum number of breaks for eating, sleeping and other necessary activities, I managed to finish the book today.
Not that it was a chore by any means. Murakami is one of the easiest authors to read that I know. No big words. Short sentences hardly ten words long. He is by far one of the easiest authors to just read through without understanding anything of what is going on.
Kafka on the Shore deals in symbols, metaphors and seemingly unconnected events in an even more bizarre manner than Sputnik Sweetheart and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, both of which have their share of eccentricities. The book has however one of the best, I should say, infact, superb characters Murakami has ever created – Mr. Nakata. Instantly lovable, he has the outward simplicity of most Murakami characters with the added attraction of a mysterious inner life which allows him to talk to cats and open the doors to a secret world.
This secret world is perhaps the core of the novel. I say, perhaps, because it will probably take me another reading to really figure out things, but as I understood it, the secret world is the world of the individual’s deepest desires, some of which live on forever as memories. The novel is about the confrontation of those desires and memories, in a way the confrontation of grief and loss, and the ability to move beyond the confrontation and go on living. The main “confronter” if I can use the word is the eponymous Kafka, a fifteen year old boy with an unusual past.
Though this Kafka is the main character (or one of them, the other being Mr.Nakata), I didn’t find it as easy to empathise with him as I usually do with Murakami heroes. For one thing, in many Murakami novels, the heroes are usually ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. But in this one, right from the start, one gets the feeling that Kafka is a special, maybe strange person, who is destined to go through strange happenings, so no surprises there. He is no boy next door. The supporting cast in the novel, Oshima the librarian who helps Kafka, Sakura, the girl he meets on the bus, Hoshino, Mr. Nakata’s fellow-traveller, all these actually turned out to be a little more interesting than Kafka himself.
In between all the strange happenings, coincidences and seemingly supernatural events, the part about this novel which touched me was still the very earthly stuff – themes of abandonment, love, the loss of love, the themes of memory, longing and identity, and the fundamental theme of all, the struggle between good and evil that wages through the real and the secret world. I like it, that in the middle of all the imaginative sequences, Murakami never forgets the essential things, which after all determine what our lives turn out to be!