Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

April 22, 2014

Haruki Murakami has done it again. He has sucked me into his world of realism and surrealism, infused with pop-fusion and sexuality, all within the mundane happenings of life. Kafka on the Shore is the third book I've read by Haruki Murakami, and I'm still as enthralled by his writing just as I was when I first read 1Q84. Part of the reason I'm so drawn into his books is because he seems to have woven in his thoughts and epiphanies about life into the stories - all of which are highly relevant and make perfect sense. 

Reading Kafka on the Shore, I found myself confused more than once as I couldn't seem to distinguish the characters' reality from dreams. It was only towards the end that things started to make more sense, but to me, the book is still filled with unsolved riddles. Even the characters in the book tease the readers with questions left hanging, free to our very own interpretations.

Haruki Murakami had also cleverly made use of the shore as a metaphor describing the "border between the conscious and the unconscious minds." According to Murakami, it is “a story of two different worlds, consciousness and unconsciousness. Most of us are living in those two worlds, one foot in one or the other, and all of us are living on the borderline. That's my definition of human life.” 

Isn't that so very true? Reality is the world around us, and based on our own perceptions and interpretations, we morph the world into our own. It's no wonder the same story can be retold by people in countless of ways, as we all interpret and experience the same things differently. It's almost like how the same ingredients can yield so many different recipes and dishes.

The book also discusses the exploration of self (in a pretty grotesque manner at certain points in the book, I must say). The protagonist, a young 15 year old boy, has run away from home in search of the true definition of himself. Nakata, an old man who has no shadow, has lost a part of himself. I guess that's why the book was so confusing and laced with riddles, it's because the constant quest to discover who we truly are is a confusing process.

To quote the book, "We're coming from somewhere, heading somewhere else. That's all you need to know, right?"

That's all I need to know for now - that "things never work out like you think they will, but that's what makes life interesting, and that makes sense.”

The following are some of my favourite quotes from the book, just because Haruki Murakami's brilliance and wisdom is too good to not be shared.

1. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step. There's no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That's the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

2. "Even chance meetings (....) are the result of karma.'"

3. Face it, I remind myself—there're tons of things you don't have a clue about.

4. I'm free, I think. I shut my eyes and think hard and deep about how free I am, but I can't really understand what it means. All I know is I'm totally alone

5. "But you know, (...) people don't work that way. We need dates and names to remember all kinds of things."
"Sounds like a pain to me."
 "You're absolutely right. There's so much we have to remember, it is a pain.

6. What am I always so tense about? Why this desperate struggle just to survive?

7. But it's not a good idea to make decisions so soon. There's no such thing as absolutes.

8. My point is, in this whole wide world the only person you can depend on is you.

9. This time I can get to sleep. A deep, deep sleep, maybe the deepest since I ran away from home. It's like I'm in some huge elevator that slowly, silently carries me deeper and deeper underground. Finally all light has disappeared, all sound faded away.

10. Fate seems to be taking me in some even stranger directions.

11. It's a trite observation, perhaps, but it is true what they say—that time does fly—and I've found the passage of time to be incredibly swift.

12. We're so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit around our minds. But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us forever, like a touchstone.

13. Solitude comes in different varieties

14. Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.

15. You can't look too far ahead. Do that and you'll lose sight of what you're doing and stumble. I'm not saying you should focus solely on details right in front of you, mind you. You've got to look ahead a bit or else you'll bump into something. You've got to follow the proper order and at the same time keep an eye out for what's ahead. That's critical, no matter what you're doing.

16. Hello, good-bye. Like flowers scattered in a storm, man's life is one long farewell, as they say.

17. Closing your eyes isn't going to change anything. Nothing's going to disappear just because you can't see what's going on. In fact, things will be even worse the next time you open your eyes.

18. When I first met you I felt a kind of contradiction in you. You're seeking something, but at the same time running away for all you're worth.

19. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story. - Tolstoy

20. She still smiles from time to time, definitely a charming smile, but it's always limited somehow, a smile that never goes beyond the moment.

21. The hands of the clock buried inside her soul ground to a halt then. Time outside, of course, flows on as always, but she isn't affected by it.

22. It's like the land that time forgot. Or more like a place that's holding its breath, hoping time won't stumble upon it.

23. Sometimes I don't understand it myself. Like, what the heck am I, anyway? Really, what am I?

24. But what disgusts me even more are people who have no imagination. The kind T. S. Eliot calls hollow men. People who fill up that lack of imagination with heartless bits of straw, not even aware of what they're doing. Callous people who throw a lot of empty words at you, trying to force you to do what you don't want to.

25. She's got to be a ghost. First of all, she's just too beautiful. Her features are gorgeous, but it's not only that. She's so perfect I know she can't be real. She's like a person who stepped right out of a dream. The purity of her beauty gives me a feeling close to sadness—a very natural feeling, though one that only something extraordinary could produce.

26. The whole thing feels like I might've died, unknowingly.

27. Words without letters

28. All I wanted was to go off to some other world, a place beyond anybody's reach. A place beyond the flow of time

29. I wasn't alone, but I was terribly lonely.

30. When I was fifteen, I thought there had to be a place like that in the world. I was sure that somewhere I'd run across the entrance that would take me to that other world.

31. Of their own accord, almost automatically, my tongue and lips form her name, over and over.

32. The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future.

33. You can't choose where you're born, but where you die you can—to some degree

34. To be honest about it, I'm not trying to die. I'm just waiting for death to come. Like sitting on a bench at the station, waiting for the train.

35. It's not the kind of passionate, stormy love you find in a Puccini opera or anything. We keep a careful distance from each other. We don't get together that often, but we do understand each other at a deep, basic level.

36. Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who's in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It's like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven't seen in a long time. It's just a natural feeling. You're not the person who discovered that feeling, so don't go trying to patent it, okay?

37. “We're all dreaming, aren't we?" she says.
All of us are dreaming.

38. That blank, silent interval between leaves you sad, so terribly sad. Like fog from the sea, that blankness wends its way into your heart and remains there for a long, long time. Finally it's a part of you.

39. A shabby, miserable sort of building. The kind where shabby people spend one shabby day after another doing their shabby work. The kind of fallen-from-grace sort of building you find in any city, the kind Charles Dickens could spend ten pages describing. The clouds floating above the building were like hard clumps of dirt from a vacuum cleaner no one ever cleaned. Or maybe more like all the contradictions of the Third Industrial Revolution condensed and set afloat in the sky. Regardless, it was going to rain soon.

40. Before long, though, the raindrops grew larger, and it was soon a regular downpour, wrapping the world in a wet, stuffy smell.

41. Things never work out like you think they will, but that's what makes life interesting, and that makes sense.

42. As he sat there the air began to feel strangely heavy and he could no longer tell if his thoughts and feelings were really his.

44. A powerful emotion overwhelms me, like the whole world's been turned upside down, like everything tangible had fallen apart but has now been put back together

44. He felt completely drained, and once ensconced on the sofa couldn't rouse himself enough to get up.

45. And then, without warning, a warm tear spills from my eye, runs down my cheek to my mouth, and, after a while, dries up. No matter, I tell myself. It's just one tear. It doesn't even feel like it's mine, more like part of the rain outside.

46. My thoughts slow down, and finally stop, like a train pulling into a station, and I can't think straight anymore, like the core of my body's coagulating.

Wonderfully and wittily written, Kafka on the Shore is an excellent read. Do check it out. 

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