Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”
― Neil Gaiman

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

Some time ago, after reading After Dark, I said I wanted to explore more of Haruki Murakami’s work, well I finally got around to it, and I’m very happy I did.

Earlier this year I read Norwegian Wood as a book club selection (review to come, our club has yet to meet due to a few members taking their sweet time to read the book!) and I loved it. I loved it almost as much as The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and you know how much I love that book! I don’t know what it is about certain translations (that they are beautiful maybe?) but I just can’t get enough of them. I was so taken by Norwegian Wood that I began to think that Murakami might actually be one of my favourite authors, but I couldn’t make such a decision based on two books, to find out for sure I needed to read more.

So, I set myself the task of actively reading more Murakami (to begin with I decided I’d read one book a month, but what with all my other commitments that is starting to seem like wishful thinking) and first on the list was Kafka on the Shore. Now, Norwegian Wood is said to be somewhat of an anomaly in Murakami’s portfolio, but Kafka on the Shore is quintessentially Murakami-esque – so I thought this could be the decision maker.

Where Norwegian Wood is a unique take on a classic tale of love, Kafka on the Shore is weird, wonderful and unashamedly unique!

It’s as if when you’re in the forest, you become a seamless part of it. When you’re in the rain, you’re a part of the rain. When you’re in the morning, you’re a seamless part of the morning. When you’re with me, you become a part of me.

kotsIn Kafka on the Shore storylines combine to trace the extraordinary journeys of two seemingly unrelated characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, haunted by the words of his father’s dark prophecy. Ever since the mysterious departure of his mother and elder sister Kafka’s life has been full of questions. Now his aim is simple, to travel to a far off place and live in the corner of a library. The journey, it seems, may hold the answers.

Elsewhere in Nakano ward, the dim-witted but amiable Nakata tracks lost cats and enjoys the simple things in life, like eels, and pickled vegetables with rice. But this is all set to change with the arrival of a tall man in a top hat and boots, whose interest in the neighbourhood cats is far from innocent. With his simple life turned upside down Nakata is forced to leave Nakano ward, and embarks on journey unlike anything he has ever experienced before, or his simple mind can even comprehend.

As Nakata and Kafka’s stories unwind and intertwine the remarkable interlaces with the ordinary and the world takes on a wholly unusual shape – fish and leeches fall from the sky, and cats converse with people, while WWII soldiers live, unageing, in the depths of unnavigable forest, and living ghosts lurk in the perimeters of consciousness.

Kafka on the Shore is a classic tale of quest and enlightenment, with a wholly unusual twist, which goes beyond the boundaries of classic literature. Murakami’s characters embark on a journey of stunning proportions, a voyage of self-discovery through inexperience. Neither Kafka nor Nakata know what it is they are looking for, but the answer is out there, and the journey introduces them to many strange and wonderful characters, with whom brief encounters prove to be life-affirming.

Anyone who falls in love is searching for missing pieces of themselves. So anyone who’s in love gets sad when they think of their lover. It’s like stepping back inside a room you have fond memories of, one you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s just a natural feeling. You’re not the person who discovered that feeling, so don’t go trying to patent it, okay?

Kafka on the Shore is strange – there is no getting around it. Weird and wonderful things occur and the reasons behind these occurrences are not immediately, if at all, clear. Each chapter harbours events which, however deep and profound an impact they may have, lack any logical explanation. Try and apply a logical filter to Murakami’s and you will no doubt find yourself disappointed and frustrated.

I found it useful, in having read Kafka on the Shore to try and get some insight into  Murakami’s own thoughts on his writing. Murakami has explained his writing process as similar to dreaming, rather than delving into the fantastical: “Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life. It’s also a way of descending deep into my own consciousness. So while I see it as dreamlike, it’s not fantasy. For me the dreamlike is very real.”

Kafka on the Shore, then, can be seen as the amalgamation of two different worlds, the combination of the conscious and the unconscious. Think of the book as you would a dream, and suddenly things become much clearer. I was reminded, in reading this, of the talk I went to by Nigerian author Ben Okri last summer in which he spoke of exploring a new way of thinking in his writing, to show that text does not have to follow strict criteria. The world that you create, he said, can be sequential and logical, or circular and dancing. Kafka on the Shore falls firmly into the latter category.

Despite everything, it’s not a difficult book to read. The obscure and the philosophical, which may at times feel somewhat overwhelming, for me were lightened by Murakami’s abstract humour. Here I could give examples of the pimp dressed like Colonel Sanders, or Nakata’s continued reference to going for a ‘dump’ – but for me, the most hilarious part of the book, was Oshima’s fantastic shutting down of two women who refer to him as a ‘typical sexist, patriarchal male’.

My verdict – I liked it. But nowhere near as much as Norwegian Wood. I definitely need to read some more before I make a decision on just how much of a Murakami fangirl I am. The book won’t be for everyone – fans of the logical and sequential and those of you unsettled by violence against animals should steer clear of this one – but I’m certainly not done with my Murakami journey just yet.

A fairytale weekend

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” ― G.K. Chesterton

After being treated to these beautiful books by a good friend I spent an otherwise dismal weekend holed up in my new reading room indulging my inner child.

The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddel

23301545The Sleeper and the Spindle is a great example of a children’s book made for an adult audience. Think Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty, with some dark magic thrown in. I love modern twists on traditional fairy tales, almost as much as I love traditional fairy tales, so this book was always going to go down well.

High in a tower in a kingdom far, far away a beautiful princess lies enchanted in her bed. Lately, the spell which keeps her slumbering has begun to spread, and the people of neighbouring villages have fallen victim to the sickness. Many brave souls have tried to reach the tower in the hopes of breaking the enchantment only to lose their lives, impaled on an impenetrable fortress of rose thorns. On what is to be the eve of her wedding, a young queen decides to set aside her matrimonial plans to rescue the sleeping princess. Accompanied by a team of crass dwarves, the queen takes up her sword and chain mail and travels deep into the mountains to reach the sleeping kingdom.

The Sleeper and the Spindle combines the traditional themes we all know and love with an exciting modern twist, to create an enchanting, yet ominous tale – as delicately unsettling as it is deliciously captivating.

Oh and the illustrations are nothing short of spectacular.

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Russian Fairy Tales – Alexander Afanasyev, with illustrations by Ivan Bilibin

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If you saw my post about Children’s Stories from Japanese Fairy Tales and Legends you’ll no doubt be familiar with my fascination with foreign fairy tales. In fact, this interest does not apply just to fairy tales – myths, legends and ghost stories are also high up my list of interests. I find it really interesting to see how stories from different nations compare to those I grew up with and know so well.

This collection of tales was written, or rather, recorded by renowned Russian folklorist Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev in the mid-19th century. The book contains some of the best-known Russian folktales, including: Vasilisa the BeautifulThe Feather of Finist the Falcon; The Frog-Tsarevna; and Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf.

Of all the characters I came across in this volume, and there are a few who feature in more than one tale, I was particularly taken by Baba Yaga.

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Baba Yaga is a cannibalistic witch who lives in a small wooden hut at the edge of the forest. Now, this description may not seem so different from a lot of other witches in children’s stories, but Baba Yaga has so many fantastic quirks, the likes of which I would never have imagined.  Her hut stands on hen’s legs, and will only lower itself to permit entry when in receipt of a certain rhyme. It is also surrounded by a picket fence adorned with the skulls of Baba Yaga’s victims, the eye sockets of which glow in the night.  Instead of a broomstick, Baba Yaga travels through the forest in a giant mortar, driving herself forward with a pestle in her right hand, while sweeping the forest floor with a broom in her left hand. Oh and she is also often followed by spirits.

I love her.

Having no familiarity with Russian folklore prior to this, I feel the collection gave a good introduction to some of the most famous characters in Russian folk literature. It’s a beautiful volume, and some of the illustrations are so elaborate I feel I could have spent hours studying them.

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I’m having another … Wordless Wednesday

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“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C. S. Lewis

Payday splurge! Bookish treats to get me though April

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” ― Oscar Wilde

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s finally time to treat myself after a few penniless weeks. Check out my haul!

The Hourglass Factory – Lucy Ribchester

the-hourglass-factory-9781471139307_hr1912 and London is in turmoil…

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

The-Book-Thief-cover1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

9780143124948_p0_v1_s260x420When Alba Ashby, the youngest Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, suffers the Worst Event of Her Life, she finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street. There, a beautiful older woman named Peggy invites Alba to stay on the house’s unusual conditions: she’ll have ninety-nine nights, and no more, to turn her life around.

Once inside, Alba discovers that 11 Hope Street is no ordinary house. Past residents include Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, and Agatha Christie, who all stayed there at hopeless times in their lives and who still hang around – quite literally – in talking portraits on the walls. With their help Alba begins to piece her life back together and embarks on a journey that may save her life.

Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler

{D611CA94-A3E1-4F0E-AA1C-260F3312C980}Img400Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside.

To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges, “walking away from it all” is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life…

Did you treat yourself to any literary goodies this payday?

Top Ten Tuesday! Literary quotes

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this week to be a bit of a drag ― and it’s only Tuesday! I am well and truly tired of the bleak weather now. Seriously, where is spring? To cheer myself up, and hopefully bring a little light to your lives too, here are few of my favourite literary quotes for #toptentuesday. Enjoy!

“A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so.” ― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

“And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” ― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

“Each day had a tranquility a timelessness about it so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of the night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us glossy and colorful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary Of A Young Girl

“I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people’s places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding.” ― Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.” ― Graham Greene, The Quiet American

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.” ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.” ― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance.”—Robert R. Coveyou

It’s been a while since I last shared a little bit of obscure poetry with you. I must sound like a broken record by now but I really have been very busy. I am in the process trying out a new method but I’m finding it difficult to fall in love with the results I’ve been getting so you might have to wait a little while for that one (cryptic, aren’t I?).

Anyway, I recently received an email from a family friend introducing me to a new method of constructing poetry from existing poems. Some of the results are really great, and it will give you an excuse to get some of the poetry books that might be craving some attention down from your shelves.

The method is as follows:

Take poetry books (individual poets and anthologies) to use as your base. You can select as few or as many as your collection allows (the method will also work with a single book, just remove step one).

Step one. Go to www.random.org and get a random number for your range of books.

Step two. Pick out the random book and find the pages for the actual poetry, for example 13–232, enter this range in the random number generator. Take the resulting number and go to that page in the book.

Step three. Get the range of lines on the page (eg 1–24) and enter this range in the random number generator. Go to the random line, et voilà, you have a line for your random poem.

Step four. Repeat until you have the number of lines you want for your poem (however many you like!).

Step five. Use the random number generator to rearrange the lines randomly.

Step six. (optional) Choose an extra line to use as the title for your poem.

Here are some of the examples Ross sent to me:

Slipped in the wet grass
(Merioneth’s bright as billow)
See glorious ages opening to our view
So sang the grains of sand, and while they whirled
to a pattern
So snugly in the depths
Occult. By son of Man, ambiguous name,
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
To plume a lady’s gear; the motet waits
The lady Geraldine espies
Like the leaves scattered! Pale generating
creatures of clay
And Judas was a terrible chap!
Verde que te quiero verde
And make those flights on the bankes of Thames

This poem has a few German lines and one in French, the translations of which are displayed in parentheses. This example also, as per step six, uses a 14th line as a title:

Those cruel wings
And many a skeleton shook his head
Have passed by cedar, pine and yew
Sanfter träumet und schläft in Armen der Erde der Titan (In the arms of the earth the titan lies dreaming)
Das Leben und lassen wollten sie nicht (The life and they didn’t wish to part from it)
Reif sind, in Feuer getaucht, gekochet (Ripe they are, dipped in fire, cooked)
In a cave’s heart, until a thunderstorm
Without even the encumbrance of a brother
With free long looking ere I die
Ja, schon sagt mir gerüht dein Blick, mir sagt es die Träne, (Yes, I can tell by your emotion, your eyes, your tears)
Trouve, ô Chasseur, nous le voulons (Find, O Hunter, we desire it)
Here on this very campus years ago
There’s no more to tell
I don’t know when it’s likely to get better

The results, I think, speak for themselves. Credit for the previous two poems and the method itself is to poet and author Ross Tomkins, whose book entitled Short Works is now available on Amazon.

Now for my attempt:

For the Garden
To rise from Generation free:
He who was living is now dead
with a bare bodkin?
His present blessings, and to hushed up
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.
Cascading through the dusty road
a cage for small bikes; rows of potted plants
The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
I did not fall when I fell down the stairs
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And underneath the spreading tree

I think this method has been my favourite so far. While it might seem a bit complicated at first it really isn’t and you soon get the hang of it. I really enjoyed trying it out and the results so far have been great (I am particularly pleased that I ended up with a couple of rhyming lines in mine). The great thing about found poetry is you can attribute any meaning to the finished product, I get a very different feel from each of the poems listed here, at the very least some sense seems to emerge from the randomness.

“It is quite possible–overwhelmingly probable, one might guess–that we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology” – Noam Chomsky

The making of a very thoughtful evening

The Little Prince ― Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

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First published in 1943 this sweet little novella is the most famous work of Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, and has been translated more time than any other book in the French language.

This is another book I found nestled cosily amongst our bookcases one evening. It’s a tiny little thing so I decided to spend the evening getting to know the Little Prince hidden within it’s pages a bit better.

The Little Prince seems at first to be written for children, but there is a very obvious philosophical message behind the story. I feel that on this level the story has appeal to both children and adults, anyone sat reading this book with a child on their knee is sure to enjoy it just as much as the little one.

Saint-Exupéry tells the story of a very thoughtful chap, who as a child learned only to draw boa constrictors from the inside and outside, and was terribly upset to find no one else fully appreciates his artwork.

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As an adult the voice of the story becomes stranded in the desert, and makes an unlikely friend. Someone who finally understands his drawings of so long ago – ‘the Little Prince’.

This charming little story traces the tale the Little Prince has to tell, of his travels across the universe, before finding his way to earth, and to our humble narrator.

The Little Prince visits many planets on his travels, mainly inhabited by a single person. Each character is more ‘odd’ than the last in the eyes of the Little Prince. A king – Obsessed with giving orders, A businessman – obsessed with money, A drunk – obsessed with drink and his own misery. The Little Prince continues on his travels, never fully understanding the people he has met along the way.

Behind Saint-Exupéry’s dear little story, there is an allegory of the human condition. The inhabitants of these planets are so preoccupied with the things that seem so strange to this innocent little mind. Not one of the people the Little Prince encounters is able to make a valid argument for the importance of his work. While the Little Prince cares only for doing what makes him happy, about asking questions, and caring for his possessions back on his own planet, including the love of his life -a beautiful rose.

Overall I found The Little Prince to be quite a satisfying read. It’s a short book, and can easily be enjoyed all in one go; in fact I found that once I started to read it I didn’t want to stop until it was finished. The book appeals to me on a many levels, I think it is a lovely little story for children ― I also think a fair few adults will enjoy the story for what it is ― but I also really enjoyed the allegorical side of the tale.