By Chet Yarbrough
By: Haruki Murakami
Narrated by: Sean Barrett, Oliver Le Sueur
Between dreams and reality, Haruki Murakami offers a vision of life on earth and in heaven. In simple language, and a beautifully narrated story, Murakami reveals an interpretation of life in “Kafka on the Shore”.
The name Kafka prepares a listener for symbolism in the meaning of thought and action in a perceived world of control; i.e. control that blocks or denies human’ self-determination. Is humanity fated to follow a predestined future or is it within a human’s natural capacity to choose his/her own path? Murakami draws on the mythological story of Oedipus to tell the story of a fifteen year old boy that runs away from home baring a curse from his father that he, Kafka, will make love to his mother and have sex with his sister.
Kafka’s father is a famous artist that mates with Kafka’s mother to bear two children. The mother and daughter disappear from the artist’s and Kafka’s lives. Kafka steals money from his famous father and chooses to pack the stolen money, essential clothing, and living’ accoutrement into a backpack to board a bus to somewhere/anywhere. On the bus, Kafka meets a young woman (slightly older than he), strikes a conversation, becomes friendly, and settles in the same area of Japan as his new friend.
The story jumps back in time. Another story is told of an incident that occurred near the end of WWII where a school teacher is taking 16 children on a hike into the mountains. The story unfolds as a mystery because the 16 children faint, with their eyes open and with all vital signs normal. Fifteen of the children recover but one remains in the same state for several weeks or months. The un-recovered child is described as an above average student that comes back to consciousness but is unable to read and appears to be mentally crippled by his experience. His name is Nakata and he becomes a recurring and critical character in the story.
Later in the story, the mystery of the fainting children is more credibly explained by a letter from the teacher to a professor, 40 years after the incident. The faint is believed to be caused by un-revealed actions reported by the teacher in her letter to the professor. The cause of the mass faint is the students mental reaction to a physical incident between the teacher and Nakata. Murakami is showing how, not only actions, but thoughts have real world consequence; a recurrent theme in the story.
Back to present time, Kafka, as he settles into his new life, meets Oshima, a librarian for a private library. Oshima is a 21-year-old, gay, transgender male that becomes a friend of Kafka. The manager of the library is Miss Saeki, a 50ish, attractive and reclusive older woman. Kafka falls in love with Miss Saeki and consumates his affection.
Murakami re-introduces Nakata as a 60ish older man who still cannot read but has the extraordinary ability to talk to cats. Nakata never meets Kafka but becomes a critical part in Kafka’s return to the home of his, now deceased, father. In Nakata’s developing history, the listener is introduced to Hoshino, a truck driver that becomes Nakata’s ally in completing Nakata’s purpose in both Kafka’s and Miss Saeki’s lives. One also meets Johnny Walker, among other things, a symbol of the arbitrariness of life and the threat of pre-destination.
There are more characters in the novel but these are the essential ingredients of a fantasy that captures a listener’s imagination. “Kafka on the Shore” has few definitive conclusions about life, heaven, hell, or other dimensional universes but it is like “Alice in Wonderland”; i.e. rather than a girl’s journey, it is a boy’s journey, sprinkled with real and imagined truths–sometimes funny; sometimes not.
Haurki Murakami is a master of the art of writing with imagination in a world of presumed reality. Every listener finds their own truth in Murakami’s stories.