Sunday, August 28, 2011

Memories, Warm & Otherwise

Kafka on the Shore
Kafka on the Shore 

"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. 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."  - Haruki Murakami

This is a strange novel by Haruki Murakami, although that is not surprising since strangeness is is stock in trade. It is part allegory, part fantasy and reading it was often frustrating to this reader. With a plethora of references to things as disparate as classical mythology, pop culture, music (both popular and classical), philosophy (Kant and Hegel) and religion, the novel seemed to be chaotic at times. However, there was an overarching story line that held the book together somewhat. Briefly, it is the story of a runaway fifteen year old boy named Kafka Tamura whose life eventually intersects with that of a much older "simple" man named Satoru Nakata. Told in alternating chapters with the help of a supporting cast including talking cats and "Colonel Sanders" the book careens, a little too slowly, toward a conclusion that at least is unpredictable. My only other experiences with talking cats (Carroll and Bulgakov) were much more to my liking. And I have never encountered Colonel Sanders in fiction before, although I suspect he is out there somewhere. I suppose I should admire the author's ability to describe what might be the memories or dreams of a teenager - I know mine were sometimes as chaotic as this novel.  However warm some moments in the story I found myself thinking otherwise - just flat and lacking any profundity. For Murakami devotees, this fantasy's loose ends will tantalize; to his admirers, they may invite potential interpretation; but for the unconvinced, they will just dangle. Thus I found novel unappealing and ultimately unsatisfying and cannot recommend this book to any but the most perversely adventurous readers.  If you want a better introduction to this author I would direct you to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

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