I love it when a theme comes together. The apparent theme for me lately appears to be foreign author’s with cool ass web sites. Check out the site for my man Haruki Murakami, author of my latest read Kafka on the Shore.
That’s pretty flippin’ sweet, no? I went to the “Extras” link to download the Murakami screen saver. I find it extremely useful in baffling my co-workers. You’ve got to keep those guys guessing. Get too predictable and you’re out like yesterday’s news. But I digress. On to the book …
This book was pretty great. I feel like some sort of provincial rube guy for not really having heard of the author before. He’s written several books that have been translated to wide critical acclaim. Huh.
Anyway, this book is about a 15 year old boy, on the lam name: Kafka, who runs away from his home in Tokyo. His father was cold, distant. His mother and sister left when he was nine. His life is generally miserable. Did I mention that he’s 15? Anyway, Kafka heads out on the road with some cash stolen from his father. His destination is seemingly random, but as the book goes on it becomes apparent that he has been drawn there for a reason. There are two narrative threads that alternate throughout the book, ultimately relating to one another. The story is loosely based on the Oedipus myth. But don’t let that get your eyes rolling. Now, before I go any further, let me say that those of you who like your narrative firmly based in the here-and-now physical world and aren’t really down with books that feature talking cats – well, you might want to look elsewhere. If you can handle some oddness in your prose, then read on.
Remember when the relatively unknown Japanese movie Spirited Away won an Oscar for the best animated movie (it beat Ice Age and Lilo & Stitch)? Ever see that movie? Well I have. That is one wacky movie. In the movie, the titular spirits come and go, some are friendly and cute, some are evil and disgusting, some reside within inanimate objects, some are in people, some are conjured from the ether, there are phantom railroads – I could go on. It was two hours of total bafflement (although it seemed pretty straightforward for the first ten minutes). If people rented this for their kids because it was nominated with Ice Age, man, were they in for a huge surprise. Therapy all around.
That movie is what first drove home for me just how huge the cultural divide really is between the Japanese and us (assuming that the movie made sense to the Japanese). Their whole mythology and their spirituality seemed to be completely alien to anything that we in the west can fathom. Thankfully, this book is not like that.
Murakami seems to go out of his way to accommodate the western reader. On his travels, Kafka passes McDonald’s and Denny’s and other typical scenes from our own landscapes. He listens to Prince and Radiohead (Thom York is supposedly a huge fan of Murakami). One of the spirits takes the shape of Johnnie Walker. Yes – the guy from the scotch bottle. Another spirit assumes the form of Colonel Sanders. Thankfully it wasn’t that ill-conceived rappin’ Colonel (Go, Colonel! Go, Colonel!). Those are physical manifestations that we can deal with. He also offers an insight for the Japanese “flexibility” in their views re: God, spirits, etc. Murakami tells us that until 1946 the Emperor was God. And then one day General MacArthur made the Emperor give a nationally broadcast speech in which he mentioned that he was not really divine. So then he wasn’t God any more. That’ll mess with your worldview.
This book is very well written. I highly recommend it to all of my friends who are not cursed with a myopic imagination. KOTS does what all novels should do, it transports you to another place. This place is a little unfamiliar, but whatever.
In a completely unrelated note: I am listening to the new Gorillaz song (Feel Good Inc) right now. It makes your butt wiggle. In a good way.