Kafka on the Shore
Telling two entangled stories that seem irrelevant to each other but later on prove intertwined, the book is split into two parts. While the odd chapters lead the reader down the life path of a boy of fifteen named Kafka, the second one narrates the story of Nakata, the cat-finder. With its three main parts, Cats, The Stone, and The Brand New World, the book suggests the reader a trip to a faraway maze.
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Down the labyrinth of great Murakami, one can find that this book is perhaps, the brightest specimen of the typically Murakami-style realism. On the one hand, the style which Murakami chooses eliminates the absence of any realism automatically. Yet what distinguishes the author among the range of the “contemporary classics” is the above-mentioned striking, sight-splitting realism planted in each of his stories carefully, with typically Japanese refinement. His “typical realism and fantasy” (Tymieniecka 376) is expressed in this novel most explicitly, mainly because the lives of usual people are interrelated most weirdly.
It is quite peculiar that both stories in the book represent the new form of realism that Murakami has suggested. The popular postmodernist theme concerning the instability of the world, its unsteadiness and uncertainty have been expressed in the book most explicitly. The two people living their own lives, one of them a teenager with his typical teenager problems, another one a man with compassion for cats, have been dragged out of their typical lives into the new environment. The sight-splitting reality of what happens to the lead characters is what makes the book cryptic and capturing.
The book telling the life stories of completely different people is something to consider. Entangled and at times shocking, it substitutes the readers what they are used to think as “naturalism”. Because of his specific understanding of the term and the unusual approach to naturalism as a means of expression in literature, Murakami suggests another idea of naturalism. One of the key naturalism purports, in Murakami’s understanding, the naturalism of an individual has been conveyed in the book completely:
This strategic move undermines the implicit senses of ‘transparency’ and ‘sincerity’ so pragmatic of Japanese literary modernity, and which have so permeated the I-novel (shishosetsu) form. (Seats 115)
Despite the conventional idea of naturalism as the detailed description of every piece of one’s life no matter how unpleasant it could look, Murakami suggests another variant of naturalism, even more expressive, though not bearing the characteristic traits of the European realism.
One of the examples of naturalism in the book is the detailed description of the life of the characters involves in the story. This novel is another example of the famous paradigmatic transparency of Murakami’s works which Seats (115) speaks about. With help of the details mentioned matter-of-factly, Murakami creates a clear vision of another world, the world in which the characters live, and where they suffer their troubles.
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Speaking of his school, Kafka mentions the way he shrank his school, “screwing around on motorcycles”. This is a clear-cut example of naturalism shown in the Murakami way. Taking a look at the other side of the sword, one can see naturalism expressed in the story of Nakata. Watching the news on TV, he hears about the murder – this is the way life breaks into the shelters which people make to get rid of the annoying, persistent reality.
With help of the detailed description of certain events happening in both “parallel universes” which Murakami creates, the author reaches the top of what could be called the Murakami naturalism – he pits the print of his gorgeous style in each sentence, with each letter written.
The school which was reborn by Murakami, magical realism is an integral part of each story in the book. With help of this magical tool, Murakami creates a world of surreal where everything described in the book takes action. Without the elements of magical realism, it would not be Murakami – it would not be the soul of Japan. As Zamora marks,
Perhaps the most popular writer of the current younger generation, Murakami’s works are particularly good examples of contemporary Japanese magic realism. Set in clearly modern and largely urban settings containing recognizably contemporary characters, and told in an ironic detailed style, Murakami’s novels and stories are at the same time permeated with the presence of the marvelous and uncanny. (471)
With help of the incredibly detailed representation of facts which is so apt to Murakami, he creates the world of make-believe where the real mixes with the surreal into the most unbelievable cocktail. Indeed, the two stories are both separate pieces of realism with small portions of sarcastic miracles. Taking a closer look, one can notice the elements of the unusual in both stories.
Mussari claims that Murakami’s magical realism is somewhat a challenge to the readers, especially in terms of his novel Kafka on the Shore. As he claims, the way the fantastic is twinned with the real in the novel is more than even the most loyal reader can take:
In many ways, Kafka on the Shore is Murakami’s most demanding novel. Its dreamlike narrative often requires readers to suspend their disbelief and to accept the story’s bizarre characters and fantastical occurrences. Still, the novel touches on so many themes and issues familiar to readers of Murakami’s fiction (79)
Indeed, with the incredible ability of his to convey the impossible to the reader, Murakami applies magical realism to every single turn of the plot in his novel. Starting from the boy’s loss of memory up to Nakata’s attempts to escape his past, where he is being labeled as “dump”, trying to forget the terror of war, the book makes the reader plunge into the depth of magical realism with its time-and-space shifting. Because “reading Kafka on the Shore” leaves many readers wondering which “facts” are true” (Mussari 82), the book belongs to one of that kind which will grip the reader at once and will not let him/her go for another couple of hours. Jumping out of the book pages into everyday life, the magical realism of the story makes one thing if the entire mankind could be trapped in the same situation as Kafka was. Trying to remember the past is no good for your future, Murakami knows it well.
What distinguishes this very novel of Murakami among the rest is the specific doubled storyline. Because of the two plots intertwined in a peculiar life pattern, the philosophic depth of the text opens in front of the reader. Unless the book was split into two parts, there would not have been this amazing effect.
With help of the unusual approach, Murakami achieves the truthfulness which the story needs to border the fantastic. Leading the readers down the life path of two people, the author makes the reader feel the presence of “magical realism” with every inch of his/her skin, and this makes the book so unbelievably true.
This is one of those cases when the narration is floating smooth, like a river, despite the seeming conflict within the story and the characters. Making the two stories the whole, Murakami achieved the feeling of doubleness that people have when reading the novel. Bordering the real and the unreal, such trick intensifies the intrigue in the book and makes the plot ever more entangled and philosophic.
The doubled plot of the book helps the reader to understand the characters in the book better. Thus, with help of such manner of storytelling, the reader will be able to learn that one of the key issues of the book is self-identification:
Kafka’s main quest through the novel not only involves running away from home – but it also involves his discovery of his own identity. (Mussari 79)
With help of the unusual way of building the plot, Murakami has reached perfection. The book reaches the bottom of the philosophy of “self”, staying an interesting reading. Such a trick can be done only by the real Master.
Mussari, Mark. Haruki Murakami. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2010.
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Seats, Michael. Murakami Haruki: The Simulacrum in Contemporary Japanes Culture. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006.
Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa. Existence, Historical Fabulation, Destiny. Vol. 1. Part 3. Berlin: Springer, 2009.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson, and Wendy B. Faris. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Dunham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.