It took me almost three months to finish reading this novel.
As soon as I had finished reading the last page on the book, I had read 3 novels. The former was The Road. I bought that somewhere in 2009. The plot was not perplexing, but for some people, it might indeed be a kind of time-killing boredom. But what I adored from Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian tale was all the simplicity he used in interpreting the post-apocalyptic world. To be honest, I didn’t have any ideas on what and which kind of pandemonium that caused massive maelstrom, which did instantly wipe out the large fraction of the planet’s population, in no time. The setting and the background was kept at its minimal pace. But this was also the part where readers had to constantly expand their imagination independently, because one didn’t have to mention too much to provoke one’s imagination. The White Tiger was the latter one, and the most biting satire I had ever read so far. Almost all the words did indeed nibble; it entirely focused on the process from being a do-gooder into a savage, evil-minded, and corrupt soul. Balram Halwai was merely a microcosmic example of the reality in India, as Adiga wanted to interpret. The White Tiger was more of a reversed side of a happy-go-merry kind of business magazines we frequently see in any magazine stands in any bookstores.
And there was Kafka on the Shore.
Firstly, I borrowed this novel from my English tuition teacher, Miss Erica, somewhere in March 2011. Reading this novel was an uneasy task. I am very sure majority of the English teachers would not assign their students to read this novel and make a brief summary. Because it could not be summarized briefly. Or more precisely, there are no exact summaries for this novel. How you want to define this novel depends entirely on your own. There is no exact ending to the story like the ending of the previous two novels. It all depends on the readers on how to create their own ending styles.
Kafka on the Shore, is generally conceived as a fantasy novel. But, to be honest, I did not think so. It might be more exact when it is re-classified as a surrealist novel. And I want to tell you something. It is extremely difficult for me to make a review for this story. Because almost everything written in the story is all in all notional and disordered. It involves more on a struggle between the may and may-not-be logics. And it is full of concepts and out-of-the-world experiences and out-of-the-science understanding, and much sex. But this is also where you need to unleash your imagination, where you have to ruin all the ring fences that block your imagination away. It is not too exact, also, to call this a ‘story’; this is more of an imagination-expanding moment, where everything seems so blurred to be differentiated whether this is a dreamworld or truly a world.
First, the tale brings us into a boy named Kafka Tamura. This is merely a pseudonym; the real name of this 15-year-old boy is never revealed until the end. He lives with his father, and his mother and his sister had abandoned them when he was still a toddler. He was a solitary boy, having few friends to talk to at school, and had uneasy relationship with his own father. Then he began an endeavor to search for his mother and his sister. He had nothing for preparation, merely a backpack used by explorers, some money, and some food to survive throughout the journey. Whether his sojourn had actually been arranged by the destiny, that remains blurred until now.
And the second tale introduces us into an old simpleton named Satoru Nakata. He used to be an excellent child, and his father was a professor. Because of the World War II, the whole family was evacuated to Shikoku. During the wartime, children and teachers were required to farm and seek for mushrooms in order to fulfil their daily needs. Then something absurd happened. There were more than a dozen of students who suddenly fell into the comatose state. There was no invasion by the fighter jets at that time. There were also no signs of chemical poisoning of the children. They just simply fainted, for unclear reasons. All of them in the long run woke up a few hours later, but Nakata himself remained unconscious for almost a month. He was then subjected to medical examination in a military hospital. When he woke up, Nakata was no longer the prior Nakata. His memory was already wiped clean, nothing entirely left there. As if there were an exchange of spirits throughout the period of unconsciousness. People thought he became an idiot, but indeed he did not develop any signs of Down’s syndrome. The problem was merely one: his soul became null-and-void, as if something had sucked his very own, very deeply.
Both Kafka and Nakata did not know each other, but their paths seemed to emerge. To which actual points the paths were emerging to, it was not really clear. What they had only to do was to ‘end the curse’. As I began to progress through one and another chapter, I found it no more useful to digest the story simply with robustness and rational points of view. We all are used to reading stories with precise beginning and precise ending as well, but Haruki Murakami, the one who authored this bizarre tale, had his own ways. Reading a story with a sturdy beginning and a sturdy ending as well would only restrict one’s size of imagination, according to him. Sometimes, honestly saying, it would seem insufficient to read the usual novels; you need books like Kafka on the Shore as a kind of treatment.
There were pretty much bizarre things as the story progressed. Nakata had a rare friendship with cats, and could communicate with them. Kafka met a young woman named Sakura in a bus. Kafka sympathized with a haemophiliac transvestite working in a private library named Oshima. Nakata’s search to a neighbor’s cat led to a fate-assigned rendezvous with a weird ‘concept’ named Johnnie Walkers, who told him he was making a kind of flute made of cats’ souls. Johnnie Walker took a favor in beheading cats, devouring their hearts, and froze their heads in a box. In the end, Nakata stabbed Johnnie Walker to death, at the same time something strange happened to Kafka. His shirt was stained in blood, but there were no wounds in his body. When Nakata woke up, he was somewhere in a city park, while the sun was already replaced by the shining moon, and no stains of blood in his golf clothes. He originally planned to surrender in a local police station, and predicted that fish would fall out from the sky, and that indeed happened. Nakata had to escape from Tokyo, and his decampment led him to a week-long encounter with Hoshino, a happy-go-merry, playful truck driver. Kafka received the news that his father, Koichi, had been stabbed to death. The ambiguities are: Johnnie Walker may be his father’s alter ego, or someone else, or perhaps just a kind of thing that takes shape in the embodiment of that British man.
More strange things happened. Kafka was accepted to work in the library, and sympathised with a middle-aged woman named Miss Saeki. In the end, they had sex together, and another one with Sakura, in the dreamworld. Beforehand, his father had foretold him, some kind of prophecy that he would in the end kill his father, and made love with his mother and his sister. This is another similarly bizarre conclusion: both Miss Saeki and Sakura may or may not be Kafka’s biological mother and sister. And what are Nakata’s roles anyway, then? Until a month after I finished reading this novel, the answer prevails blurred. But I know that he had the responsibility to open and close ‘an entrance stone’. What that object is actually, I do not have any further, and clearer ideas. But this was also where Kafka was given a chance to comprehend, at least, of what had been going on with himself.
And there came up another ‘concept’ who – or which – took shape in the form of Colonel Sanders. And this Colonel Sanders worked as a pimp. Who, what, and where this concept came from was never entirely revealed until the ending of the novel. He only wanted to mention himself as a ‘concept’, neither a God nor a Buddha. But he was here, in this world, to offer Nakata a solution, at least.
I understand it might be entirely confusing, and I also had that same feeling. But it was truly a novel, where reality, dreamworld, and imagination were merged as one invisible entity. I agreed with Murakami’s notion that ‘a story does not have to solely have an exact beginning and an exact ending’. You even do not have to entirely understand the story; you only have to venture it with your own imagination. This is comparable to the idea that ‘one would never understand what the world is’. We may attempt to straighten up our minds with rationalization, but in most cases, there are many things that we thought we know we have known them. The truth is always out there. In the end, the more we search in the quest to find out the truth, there come up more things we don’t know we don’t know. The world will forever remain a semipternal mystery.