Skip to main content

Book review: Kafka on the Shore

I had high hopes for this work by Haruki Murakami, as I was a big fan of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I was mildly disappointed, though.

A quick aside: I listened to this book rather than read it. I reckon that has nontrivial effects on the enjoyment of a work. First there's the reader--a bad read can make a good book a slog, while a great reader can turn some pulpy schlock (like Clive Cussler) into an enjoyable experience. Second, the writing itself can sometimes not lend itself so well to being read aloud. (Try listening to The Catcher in the Rye, for example.) A third issue is translation. The writing often sounded repetitive, like the editor was lazy with the white-out. This was especially apparent during exciting or suspenseful scenes--the main characters had a tendency to narrate the action to death. But with a translated work, one always wonders if that would have played better in the original language.

On to the actual story. It's a a 15-year-old boy who calls himself Kafka. He runs away from home to escape his father, who has prophesied an Oedipal fate for Kafka. Meanwhile, an old man named Nakata who suffered a terrible accident as a child and is mentally handicapped as a result (but who can talk to cats) is sent on a quest with a truck driver named Hoshino.

That's not even the nickel summary, but I'll leave it there. The characters and the supernatural forces involved remain mysterious throughout. It's classic Murakami magical realism where everything is vague and somewhat sinister, but much more vague than usual. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book, though the lack of explanation or context sometimes drove me nuts.

Possibly the biggest weakness aside from the loose ends is the protagonist Kafka. He's 15, and the sections involving him are written as an angsty teenager would write. It's kind of a coming of age story, but his motivations (when they are discussed) are often dull or nonsensical. Often I was just shaking my head waiting for the next chapter. (I'm not saying a book has to have a likeable protagonist, but a juvenile, irritating one can be a downer.)

The remainder of the book, though, was a real pleasure. Roughly half is spend following Mr. Nakata and company around, and that part was a lot more interesting and less self-absorbed (at certain points during the Kafka section, Murakami breaks into second person, which just about made me switch to something else). Mr. Hoshino, in particular, goes through a rather remarkable transformation that was a delight to experience.

Overall, an interesting and mysterious book marred only by an irritating protagonist and a mild case of overwriting. Worth reading.


Popular posts from this blog

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept , which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito ), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects. Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017 , where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually b

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard , a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here ). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment. When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves tha

Caffeine Is Not a Bioweapon

I got into a discussion with Yves Smith about caffeine here , and somehow my comment got eaten, so I'd like to finish it up here. She said about this Raw Story piece about a girl who allegedly died from drinking two Monster drinks in two days, "The FDA lapse here is terrible. Caffeine is extremely toxic. We just happen to get highly diluted doses in coffee and tea." I commented: Yves, your implication about caffeine is incorrect on several levels. Most Monster drinks have about 10 mg of caffeine per fluid ounce, which is much less than even drip coffee (18 mg/oz) and WAY less than espresso (51 mg/oz). ( Source ) The whole idea of dilution is misguided in any case. The relevant measurement for caffeine intoxication (and most poisoning generally) is the total amount taken, not the concentration. Concentration is something to worry about, as it can make a lethal dose easier to take on, but the main concern there is pure caffeine pills, not energy drinks which are mostl