Saturday, March 26, 2011

Early Thoughts on Kafka on the Shore

When I first joined a book club I found that the genre I least enjoyed was Magic Realism.  Some novels seemed to read as normal life but would then go on a magical tangent.  The Known World by E P Jones and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez spring to mind, along with that horrid stream of consciousness in Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I couldn’t enjoy these novels as I felt that the genre lended a ‘silliness’ to them.

Then, I borrowed The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The explanation of the events at the end of the novel made the story acceptable to me!

Now, as I become more wider read, I’ve realized that the books I have enjoyed most recently due to their ‘bizareness’ are in fact Magic Realism J  (ie Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle).  So, what am I leading to?  Well, I’ve started another in this genre also by Haruki Murakami called Kafka on the Shore, it’s got me hooked from the opening line, and I felt the need to write about what I have read so far.

I haven’t read any other works by Murakami apart from Wind-Up Bird, so I’m not sure if the cat theme is running through those too.  He must be a cat lover (although with his Johnny Walker character I  might need to question that remark).  In Wind-Up Bird, the protagonists wife hires someone to look for their missing cat,  In Kafka on the Shore one of the main characters Mr Nagata spends his life searching for lost cats.  I love this character, he’s slow witted due to a bizarre event in his childhood (which forms a parallel story in this novel) and talks in a slow and deliberate manner (like our PM Julia Gillard!!).  As a youngster, during WWII, Nagata was picking mushrooms in a wood with his classmates.  Mysteriously they all fell unconscious, though  slowly one by one each of the children came around – except for Nagata.  When he finally awoke in a military hospital, his mind had been wiped clean.  Now an old man he supplements his ‘government subsidy’ with the money he earns in locating cats. Nagata is largely successful in this job due to the fact that he can actually converse with the feline species.  In the search for Goma, the much loved pet of the Koizumi family, he is warned of a dangerous man who dresses like the icon Johnny Walker and has been taking strays from a nearby vacant plot.  This man is a collector of cat’s souls, and it is apparent that he has taken Goma.

The other parallel storyline is that of Kafka, the name taken by a 15 year old boy who has run away from home.  The inner voice that gives him encouragement is known as ‘The Boy Named Crow’, though he may not be an inner voice at all but a separate entity and I wonder if he may be the part of Nagata that went missing as one of the cats remarked how thin Nagata’s shadow was compared to other humans.  It’s obvious the two stories will converge at one point and I wonder if this is the link.

Kafka passes himself off as a 17 year old and spends his time in a library or at the gym as he  doesn’t want to look like a runaway roaming the streets.  Kafka’s mother and older sister left the family home when he was very young and he barely has any memory of them and so he wishes in the women that he meets that they were really his mother or sister.

Some time after travelling and managing to get by with his new identity, Kaftka wakes up after a period of unconsciousness, away from his hotel room, and covered in blood…..

It’s very intriguing so far, and the incident on Rice Bowl Hill in the ‘40’s becomes even more so when a letter from the children’s teacher is written to the professor who studied the event.  She claims that she withheld some information for all those years which probably had a major effect on the result of the study, and the information involves an incident with the young Nagata.

Poor Mr Nagata!  He has lead such a difficult life, having to learn everything all over again but never regaining his former intellect. Kafka has had a well to do life, is very intelligent, but is ultimately a loner who dearly feels the loss of his sister and mother from his life.

I shall sign off now and read some more J

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