The Voyage Out Book Group’s Reader’s Guide to Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Phillip Gabriel
Born January 12th, 1949, Haruki Murakami has become, arguably, the world’s best known novelist. He has been known in Japan for decades as a great writer and translator, but it wasn’t until A Wild Sheep Chase hit the world market that he became a household name everywhere.
An only child, his parents- both schoolteachers- would spend time around the dinner table talking about Literature. These talks worked their way into Haruki in an odd way, and his special form of rebellion was to dismiss his parental unit’s love of traditional Japanese poetry, and find a love of all things unJapanese: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chandler, and Vonnegut.
Although Murakami was interested in Russian Lit, he was raised during the American occupation and fell in love with brash American culture. This love of American culture showed itself most blatantly in his love of Jazz. Art Blakey is a huge influence on Murakami. Murakami’s work has been marked as the first to come out of Japan that embraces American culture in a positive light.
During his secondary school life, Murakami worked on the newspaper, and thought seriously about writing for television. He even attended Film school at Waseda University in 1968. His schooling was disturbed by sudent riots and social unrest in 69, but he was able to finish his education.
After school, however, he did not begin his life as a novelist right away. In fact, he opened a Jazz club in Tokyo. The bar made money, and continued to do so until Murakami sold it in 1981.
Murakami sold the bar to begin a full-time writing life, a life that started under odd circumstances. In the Spring of 1978 Murakami was attending the season opener for the Yakult Swallows. In his first at bat, Dave Hilton hit a shot to left field. Yasuda pitched well and Garrett hit a home run. Leaving the game, Murakami knew he was going to write a novel. He did. It was finished before the Swallows finished their season.
Once started, his writing career has been a dynamic jump into stardom. His newest book 1Q84 received a Beatlesesque reception in Japan, and has since received similar adoration around the world.
Murakami continues to write.
Questions/ Tangents/ Topics:
1) Murakami makes space in his writing for declarations and explanations. How do Kafka’s conversations awkwardly move towards these declarations, and do we forgive Murakami his vagaries of thought?
2) What are we meant to believe in this novel?
3) With so much strangeness going on in this novel, how does it function as a typical, even trite, form of a coming of age story?
4) Try to go back to your thoughts at the beginning of the book, how did you interact with Crow throughout the book? Any guesses? Any diatribes?
5) Parallel narratives are tricky, how did these two stories meld and mash together throughout? Did they ever push against one another?
6) One characteristic of Murakami’s work is the introduction of a narrative track, builds it to a fully fledged idea, then abandons it early. What do you think about narrative devices (the military/government interviews) that are abandoned? What do you think about characters that come on quickly, but then leave for long periods of time?
7) How do POV choices alter the different narratives?
8) Are the names distracting? Important?
What We Talked About When We Talked About This Book:
- Murakami novels lend themselves to be talked about in terms of ‘how you read’ and not always ‘what you read’. Much of our conversation centered around this unique experience. We stayed outside of the novel more during this conversation than any I can think of. The biggest debate being about whether the specifics can lead to a better idea about the whole, or does the whole help to define the specifics. As in all things Murakami, we came to no conclusions.
- Although the book has two strong main characters, we discussed the peripheral actors, and many thought that these side characters were actually the most fully drawn.
- Murakami uses aspects of mythology to build a rich and confused narrative, but at its heart Kafka on the Shore may be a very simple thing: a coming-of-age story, and a story about what is broken during a war. There is certainly a love story, too. We talked about these base elements and ways that Murakami alters our traditional ways of attacking a story.
- Murakami is one of the world’s most read authors, so the group had some experience with him, most having read multiple titles by him. In terms of Murakami’s body of work, members felt that this book was a little too didactic, that the book was a little too showy.
- Murakami puts you on shaky ground with his oddities. Many (myself included) tried to ground ourselves in the basic facts of the book: Kafka is a run-away, his father is murdered, he works in a library…etc.. These facts, many thought, would help us figure out what the stone actually is. This approach didn’t work for many. A new approach was suggested: try grasping onto the weird and the facts will come along with you. It seems backwards, but I think there is real worth in trying this approach.