“If you remember me then I don’t care if everyone else forgets”. Of the many beautifully written lines in this book, this is one of favorites. With this line Miss Saeki pushes Kafka back to the real world. Out of the world where she’s been living for years in an effort to freeze time. Freeze time because there was a time when she was young and in love and she thought that life was perfect!
Murakami polarises people. Some people get him, some don’t. I think I completely do. I was recently in Tokyo and reading ‘Kafka..’. It was like a Catholic going to the Vatican and meeting the Pope. Every girl was Kumiko and every guy was Toru! Every street and corner was the site of a scene from one of his books. It was sheer bliss. I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of the trip and whatever else I did get was a bonus.
‘Kafka..’ is the story of a 15 year old kid, the toughest 15 year old kid. As tough as a stray crow (Kafka in Czech means a crow). And as with Murakami’s other stories the line between the real and the mystic blurs. There are 2 narratives that run parallel to each other before they finally converge. Kafka, the 15 year old kid is the protagonist of the first strand of the story and Nakata, a simpleton who ‘casts only half a shadow’ is the protagonist of the other.
Kafka is running away from a curse that his father prophesied for him. Miss Saeki is running back to or trying to hold onto a time when she thought her life was perfect. Their paths cross. The charges collide. A spark ignites. And a turmoil ensues. They both want to avoid the turmoil and they both want to be in the turmoil. It happens! “I close my eyes and try to find some centre inside to hold on to”, Kafka says.
Nakata, the simpleton, also midway through the story finds a place he wants to go to. For once in his life he wants to cast a full shadow. For once he wants to feel normal, feel equal to the others. Though it is the normal people one needs to be the most wary of!
One other character in the book that is absolutely amazing is the librarian Oshima who becomes a friend and confidante of Kafka. He possesses an enviable knowledge of music, Greek mythology, Japanese spirits, you name it. I wish I could know everything about everything. But I don’t. Oshima does!
Murakami’s novels I feel work at a few different levels. And different people who read them interpret them differently. To me this story was about an inner turmoil that everyone faces. Kafka, Miss Saeki, Nakata, Oshima and Hoshino (we didn’t talk about him here) and all of us. An inner struggle. The struggle of the hardest kind. Not your family, not your friends can help you with it. A struggle where all you can do is endure. You are tougher for having faced it but you just endure, you don’t really win or lose.
I’ll end this post with another one of my favorite lines from the book:
“The strength I’m looking for isn’t the type where you win or lose. I’m not after a wall that’ll repel power coming from outside. What I want is the kind of strength to be able to absorb that kind of power, to stand up to it. The strength to quietly endure things – unfairness, misfortunes, sadness, mistakes, misunderstandings.”
PS: In Tokyo, I also found another version of myself. I call him ‘The Mystical Me’.