Monday, June 09, 2014

Kafka on the Shore and a Haiku

In alternate chapters, two plots that begin far apart come together. In the first, Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old abandoned by his mother at the age of four, runs away from home and finds refuge in a library. There he meets Oshima, a young transgender man, and Ms Saeki, who may or may not be his mother. Before reaching the library, he also has his first sexual experience with Sakura, who may or may not be his sister. Kafka's father is murdered, and the cops start searching for Kafka. In the second plot, Satoru Nakata lost all his memories, including the ability to read and write, on a mushroom-hunting expedition with his schoolmates. As an old man, he is an expert cat-finder as he is able to speak to cats. His murder of a cat-killer Johnnie Walker, however, puts him on the run. Helped by the young truck driver Hoshina, Nakata tries to find the entrance stone and is drawn inexorably, and mysteriously, to the library where Kafka hides. The novel is a good read, but I find it ultimately unsatisfying. There are many vivid scenes, such as the horrible one in which Johnnie Walker slits open the cats to eat their beating hearts, and the confrontation between Oshima and a pair of self-righteous feminists looking for sexual bias in the management of the Nomura Memorial Library. Also, the sex scenes are frank and stimulating. But the symbolism of the woods behind Oshima's mountain house feels heavy-handed. Telling Nakata's backstory through U.S. Army intelligence reports is also a less than fresh device. Minor characters, such as Oshima's surfer brother, appear incidental to the plot. The novel consists of disparate elements that seem to cohere only accidentally. Fate in the novel, a theme often evoked with reference to Greek Tragedy, is less inevitable than unavoidable.



the rain outside
sounds like white ants
gnawing through the roof

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