In light of re-reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, I did say I wanted to read The Tale of Genji due to it being mentioned a few times, and here I am reading it now. I suspect it will take me a while to read this 1000 page classic.
The Tale of Genji is 1000 years old and considered to be one of the first novels ever to be written. On top of this, the author – Murasaki Shikibu is also a woman.
Genji is the son of the Emperor from a low ranking Intimate who does not have high social or political standing. Yet the Emperor favoured her above all others – causing the mother great distress and eventually she wasted away leaving her son behind. The Emperor cannot name him as ‘heir apparent’ as he would like – and so gives him a surname – making him a commoner.
I have had my eye on this book even before re-reading Kafka on the Shore – partly because of this edition being so pretty and that it looks interesting. I do not know much about Japanese cultural history or folklore and so this should be interesting. No doubt it will just end up opening another can of worms – I’ll have to start learning about Shinto and the Japanese belief in Buddhism next.
If I were to read one chapter a day of this book it will take me a year. It has taken me about three days to read the first so obviously I’ll have to up the pace a bit.
This is when I really wish I was better at writing down notes and need a little notebook and pen at hand all the time and not leave them scattered all over the house. Because now I have to re-call details as I write this up. I am now almost 60% of the way through the book.
Nakata and Kafka are obviously linked together. Both of them have been drawn to the same place and there are other little things that connect them together. Fates and prophesy – but what is this prophesy?
Murakami has always been interested, I think with the idea of the Self, but never more so as in Kafka on the Shore. Who is Kafka? Who is Nakata? Does Nakata have a Self, or an identity as he refers to himself in third person.
Oshima describes himself as a man trapped in a wooden body. Our bodies are just containers – containers of our selves, our spirits, or our subconscious’. I sort of like this concept. Are our bodies part of ourselves, do they give us identity and make us part of who we are? Or is it the thing that resides inside this body? The spirit – which can become separated from the body like it has with Nakata, and even Miss Saeki. At least we sort of know where Miss Saeki’s 15 year old spirit is. But where is Nakata’s?
Miss Saeki’s 15 year old ghost wonders around apart from her body. Did her spirit become trapped at that age because that was when she was the most happiest – before the tragic accident that occurred to her boyfriend. Kafka is also 15 – in real time of course. He has a connection to Miss Saeki’s childhood sweetheart – Kafka is staying in the room where the lover used to live and shares a similar personality.
The song “Kafka on the Shore” which also gives the book a title I think holds the key, or at least part of it to the whole story:
You sit at the edge of the world,
I am in a crater that is no more.
Words without letters
Standing in the shadow of the door.
The moon shines down on a sleeping lizard,
Little fish rain down from the sky.
Outside the window there are soldiers,
steeling themselves to die.
Kafka sits in a chair by the shore,
Thinking of the pendulum that moves the world,
When your heart is closed,
The shadow of the unmoving Sphinx,
Becomes a knife that pierces your dreams.
The drowning girl’s fingers
Search for the entrance stone, and more.
Lifting the hem of her azure dress,
at Kafka on the shore.
Trying to get my head around this book is like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands. It makes me think of waves that wash in and then wash out – you can see something below the water, but every time you get a little closer to it, it washes away.
I’m not an English graduate, I can’t give you an in depth analysis of all the metaphors and allegories that I read. I can see them there – my subconscious can probably see them but I cannot articulate them.
How do Nakata, Miss Saeki and Kafka all fit together?
Suddenly lightening thunderstorms have come into the mix – Miss Saeki interviewed people struck by lightening and it turns out that Kafka’s father may indeed have been one of them. This reminds me to look up the Oedipus legend. I’m not familiar with Greek mythology any more. What has this really to do with the entire thing – and why has Murakami become so fixated on this?
The edge of the world, a crater that no longer exists, the shore – water. I don’t think I have read a book by Murakami that hasn’t made some reference to a deep pool of water, or a well you cannot see, or something along those lines.
Things that are hidden underneath – on the top you have reality and just below the surface there is a whole something else. You have the light and the dark. Good and bad. Male and female. Mother and father, brother and sister. Real and not real.
For some reason I keep wondering if someone is going to pull a plug – and then what, what will the water wash away? Door, entrance stone? I also have the feeling of being trapped – in a body that is your container, with your genetic code, your father’s prophesy. And the sense of loss.
Jonnie Walker (Whisky – not the first time whisky plays a prominent part) and Colonel Saunders of KFC. Why are these figures suddenly taking the shape of real people. Jonnie Walker was Kafka’s father, so who is Colonel Saunders?
My brain is already in a spin. I feel like I need to read this book again already and I haven’t even got to the end. Before I do that I think I will need to read a couple of books on Greek and Japanese mythology.
I need to concentrate more on the symbolism – but to do that I need to be more prepared. The trouble is – the thing I never liked about studying English literature is that I just like to read, not always to have to analyse everything I read for hidden meaning. With Murakami though, you can’t not do that – his writing style is simple and easy to read but the nitty gritty isn’t always. To enjoy Kafka on the Shore completely, I think, you have to really knuckle down and think about it.
It’s been a long time since I first read this book – it was my first Murakami in fact. I remember being surprised at how much I liked it, and enjoying the feeling of having my head turned upside down and my brains falling inside out. However, I can’t quite remember it apart from the general happenings so it feels almost like reading it for the first time. The only difference is that I am now a fan of Murakami and have come to understand him more.
Murakami says that Kafka on the Shore is a book of riddles and that you have to read it several times in order to string it all together. The only trouble is that my brain is somewhat like a sieve and I can’t always remember exact details of a book.
So I am going to try and think about them now, whilst I’m still only about a fifth of the way through.
This isn’t a review, or even really a discussion, just a bunch of my thoughts that I may post about as I go along. I need to get better at writing notes down so as to remember things, and how I thought. This is essential for Murakami, often I think, as much of the stroy is how he makes you think and feel along the way.
There are several things that seem to link each part – although not in any concrete fashion.
In the forest the teacher sees an glint of metal in the sky, perhaps the duralimin aeroplanes are made out of. In the next chapter with Kafka on the bus with Sakura – and she has earrings that look as if they are made out of duralimin. It is a little strange that such a specific (and I presume not that commonly heard of) metal is mentioned in the first place.
Kafka reads a book on Eichmann, a Nazi who planned how to exterminate the Jews to the upmost precision – the most efficient and cost effective way. A man, as Murakami points out, who never questioned the morality. He just did it.
In the next chapter Jonnie Walker is eating cat hearts in front of Nakata, taking the utmost care over his carefully planned task. He does not question how, just that he has to. Is this a slight, if rather tenuous connection to Eichmann – not really but I think Murakami wanted you to be thinking a little about Eichmann. So whilst they may not really have a concrete connection, they are I think somehow linked.
I know Kafka on the Shore is about Shinto, a religion I know little about. I do need to look it up beyond the Wikipedia page.
What happened to the children in the woods? Was it something to do with spirits from… the other world? People’s ‘shadows’ being less than what they should be. But why?
Other things I need to think about…
Dreams/Reality. The real world that becomes magical, something that it isn’t. The way Kafka described the forest made me think of this.
What happened to Nakata? Did something happen to his “spirit” when his parents brought over his pet cat as a child during the time he was in the coma?
A lot to ponder. I wonder how many times I will have to read this book? As I said, it’s been a long time since the first and although I think my understanding will improve just from being more used to Murakami, it is still like looking at this for the first time.
What do others think? What are all the connections and the riddle – is it ever answered? I do remember there being lots of things left unanswered.
Has anyone read any of the books mentioned in here? I want to read The Miner by Natsume Sōseki as that is mentioned quite a lot during one part – that made it sound quite significant to the story. It’s translated by Jay Rubin apparently but I’ve only yet found it on Amazon for $75. I’d also like to read I am Cat by the same author, as though yet to be mentioned, seems relevant!
I have a list of books I need to read thanks to Murakami, many of them Russian but have yet to get around to it. Has anyone read any specifically because Murakami has mentioned them and do you think it brings anything extra when reading one of his books?
This is one of Dostoevsky’s lesser known novels, which is a shame because it is very good – and a bit easier to get through in comparison to Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. This translation by Igat Avsey seems good enough, although I’m no judge, but sometimes the language feels too modern for 19th Century.
The story is narrated by Vanya, an aspiring author and centres around two main storylines. On one side you have Natasha and Alyosha – who have ran away together. On the otherside you have Nelly – a young orphan Vanya saves from prostitutism.
In the middle of these storylines is the absolutely horrible Prince Valkovsky, Alyosha’s father, who manipulates and humiliates people all for money and seemingly his own amusement.
Alyosha is an absolute idiot, a first class moron. In the book he is described as being innocent like a child, without malice or guile. He is absolutely unable to lie or hide anything – even if it is to effuse to Natasha about his new found love Katya, to her face. I personally do not count this as childish innocence, but rather selfish blindness and stupidity. I’m pretty sure Vanya thought the same.
Vanya is a very likeable character. He is kind and compassionate and thinks of others before himself. He sees an old man fall ill and then die and takes the time and money to arrange his funeral and seek out his relatives. Upon finding the granddaughter Nelly, he takes her in and tries to save her from depravity.
Natasha on the other hand runs off with Alyosha who she knows is a first class idiot but loves out of pity. I can’t fathom her, but I am maybe judging too much from modern day standards. She is so weak. Vanya, who is so good and kind loves her honestly. And she uses him and expects him to always be there to pick up the pieces all the time. I can’t help but find her a very selfish character too.
Love seems to be a very strange concept in Russian literature at least. They are all professing their love for each other, even before meeting them which I find a little strange and I don’t think you find anything similar in English classic literature. However I’m no expert in English or Russian literature.
There is an awful lot of crying and misery going on in this book. It is a good story and though some of the characters infuriated me, they are all mostly well developed. It isn’t quite as heavy as Dostoevsky’s other novels which can be a bit hard going – although ultimately worth it.
As with the problem with most sequels that come well after the original, it lacks the essential piece that made the first good.
East is East is one of my favourite films. It mixes the genuinely funny with more serious drama about the culture clash of a British-Pakistani family. It is these films I love that have a deeper undertone, beyond providing laughs and humour.
If you haven’t seen it yet, then I would highly recommend it to you. If you like films like The Full Monty or Billy Elliot then you will probably love East is East.
(Slight spoilers may be ahead.)
West is West carries on a few years after East is East, when George’s youngest son Sajid has finally out grown his duffel coat and turned into a truanting teenager. George Khan is still his old angry self and can’t understand why his son cannot accept his racial heritage. With this in mind, he decides a trip back to Pakistan will teach the boy ‘who he is’. The only problem is that back in Pakistan is George’s other wife he left behind 35 years ago.
It is basically a story of ‘finding’ yourself and lacks the subtlety and depth of the first movie. Whilst it was quite funny, it had to be helped along and lacked the natural humour the first film had and it was not able to fully explore the complexities of George’s character.
George Khan has always been to me a very interesting character – one who is hard to like but whom you feel a bit sorry for because he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. He’s become westernised, but he rejects his own westernisation. He loves his wife but doesn’t know how to show it. Most of the time this just comes out as anger.
Om Puri has always won my admiration for his portrayal as George who on paper, would come across as a rather unlikeable person. It was good to see him back in George’s shoes again, even if it was a very watered down version.
It was also good to see Maneer Khan (played by Emil Marwa) make a return. He was the more devout son who did not rebel against his father and who sort to impress him – and thus never got noticed or appreciated. He has been living in Pakistan with his father’s other family for a year trying unsuccessfully to find a wife.
I always liked Maneer’s character because he was the quiet caring son and a bit of a geek. His brothers were loud, rude and selfish and I always felt a bit sorry for him. So it was nice to see his character back, playing a larger part.
West is West had a ‘moral’ or a ‘lesson’ to tell by the end. It was very straight forward in that respect. In East is East there was no lesson – his family was left partially shattered, the cracks still very much visible. In West is West George is to learn a lesson and the error of his ways. It is all rather too perfect and fairy tale. Sajid comes to understand his father’s culture and accept that part of himself, George accepts who he is and what he’s become and Maneer finds a wife and they marry after seeing each other for the whole of three seconds. It’s too smooth, too easy and rather unrealistic.
However, if you are a fan of the first film then it is pretty enjoyable just to see the old characters come back to life and catch up with what’s going on. Ella Bassett and Lesley Nicol (Mrs Patmore in Downton Abbey) are particularly hilarious although somewhat underused. It is a shame they were not able to replicate the hidden depths of East is East because there was I believe story enough to do so.
Last year sometime I read and reviewed The Howling Miller. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to read something else by Paasilinna, a Finnish author. His books are more light hearted with a dark humour about them. Something I tend to lack in the books I read.
This is the only other book of his translated into English and so I didn’t really have too much of a choice. Ultimately, I enjoyed it but I did not find it as interesting or absorbing as The Howling Miller. I never felt as if I got to know the main character at all. He felt a little faceless, just a man fed up of his present life.
It is the story of a man who rescues a hare after his friend accidentally runs it over. After he goes off into the woods to find it his so called friend drives off, leaving Vatanen alone in the forest, holding a baby hare. Deciding he is fed up of his life as a journalist, fed up of having to put up with his wife and having to put up with his friends, Vatanen simply decides not to go back. He does not re-join his accepted society but goes off in another direction to seek something new. All the while he carries around the hare, who soon grows up and becomes tame.
In a similar theme to The Howling Miller, this book covers the theme of people who do not quite fit in. People who go against how people are supposed to behave in society, by fulfilling their roles. In The Howling Miller, the Miller was a hermit who had a habit of imitating animals – howling like a wolf. Other people were allowed their eccentrics, as long as they conformed to society’s expected norms and values.
Vatanen simply did not conform to those values – who wonders around without aim with a hare when they had a ‘good’ job as a journalist, a house and wife in Helsinki – even if it made them unhappy? The fact that he carted a hare around with him proved to be often the point that many people could not accept. It wasn’t actually just that he’d wordlessly quit his job or disappeared with warning – it was that he had a hare. Just a small thing but so essentially important in highlighting the pettiness of some people.
It is mildly funny – less humour I think than The Howling Miller, only enough to illicit a few smiles. Over all it felt a little aimless with Vatanen just travelling from place to place having one random adventure after another. I had a feeling Paasilinna didn’t really have a destination when he wrote this book. Like Vatanen, he just decided to go wherever the idea took him. Vatanen as a character subsequently felt flat and undeveloped. The story did not have quite as much of an affect on me as the other.
I wouldn’t say it is a disappointment – not at all, I did enjoy it but there was not the same satisfaction. I liked it as I read it but it isn’t a story that will stay with me. I would still very much like to read more of Paasilinna’s works and hope that they will be translated into English.
I’ve been starting way more books than I’ve been finishing lately. There is a trail of dumped books behind me. Partly due to my book group – I feel obligated to read these books and yet lately I just can’t get into any of them. Revolutionary Road, The Night Circus and now A Scanner Darkly. Yet it isn’t just that – I seem to just be going through that thing again where nothing I pick up interests me a great deal.
Revolutionary Road – I just got fed up of those two dull characters and I just wanted to see them both run over just to end their and my misery. I chucked it half way through. Good writing from the author, but the storyline and characters were just mundane, boring, without imagination or spark. There is something about male authors who write around this period that all have a similar sort of sound to their style. Isherwood, Yates and Graham Greene – they all remind me of each other. Maybe it is just a popular sort of style common to authors of this generation? I do quite like the style actually – but out of these three, only Greene is worth reading for me.
The Night Circus – I just could not get on with that whimsy style of writing, far too much redundant description that did nothing to further the plot or build the characters. It was all very pretty. Like clothes but no body beneath. It kept flitting from here to there and I have always hated present tense. The whole magical system thing – ah I just didn’t care for it. It felt so airy-fairy and pseudo-literary for my tastes. Nothing to bite down on, nothing to get your teeth into.
A Scanner Darkly – After two chapters I came to the conclusion that my life would not be significantly impoverished if I accidentally left it at the bus stop, or let it fall down the drain, or set fire to it. I have no interest in reading about druggies and getting into their horrid, stupid little world. I’m sure there was more to the story then that, I’m sure – I hardly really got into the story. But I don’t care for drugs. I don’t care for people who take drugs. I feel I should care, feel I should have more sympathy. And maybe I will one day read a book about addiction and drug taking but not a SF type book – one about real drugs, real life.
The only book I’ve managed to finish since reading Jussi Adler-Olsen’s ‘Disgrace’ has been The Year of the Hare, which I have yet to review. It is a rather short book by the author of The Howling Miller, one of the my reading group’s books I actually did enjoy. (I find my reading group worth going to for these books – even though I have yet to really like any book they have given us this year!) Anyway – slight review spoiler – I thought it was okay but lacked direction. The hare was cute.
Right now I am reading Humiliated and Insulted by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Yes, a Russian classic is just the thing to cure massive book block. A Scanner Darkly was so uninteresting to me, that I felt like jumping into some Russian misery. Fortunately I actually do like Dostoevsky and think he is worth the time and challenge. So I probably will finish this one – if slowly.
I have often complained of book block – over the last two years I’m sure it just keeps getting worse. Lately it really is just bad. Part of it is because I’ve had other distractions but that isn’t really an excuse. I have time.
I confess it now – I became addicted to the Mass Effect video game trilogy on my Xbox. I have played it through once and now started again at the beginning with a different character. It’s the kind of game that is very flexible – every decision you make can effect the outcome of the game. It’s a very good story, one of the most absorbing games I have ever played. It even made e cry.
Unfortunately, I also downloaded Dragon Age: Origins too, because it is made by the same company (Bioware) but is fantasy rather than Sci-fi.
In the end – I’m still driven by wanting to be absorbed into a good story, something that is well written and well done. Whether it is reading, games, films – what draws me mostly is story and enjoyment. Books are only one way of achieving this end. They are my preferred method – just I guess right now I’m in a different place.
Anyway.. maybe I just need to accept that I’m not reading as much as before, that’s okay. Maybe I need to go on a ‘reviewing’ break and just read for the pleasure of it. Or just re-think how I read and what I enjoy.