“I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while.”Haruki Murakami
The Works of Haruki Murakami
A New Sensitivity
|Hard-Boiled Wonderland||Wind-Up Bird Chronicles||Kafka on the Shore|
|March 12||Short Stories||Short Stories||Short Stories||March 12|
|March 19||Page 123 (Chs. 1-12)||Page 172 (all of Book One)||Chapters 1-16||March 19|
|March 26||Page 250 (Chs. 13-24)||Page 338 (all of Book Two)||Chapters 17-31||March 26|
|April 9||Page 336 (Chs. 25-32)||Page 450 (Book Three 1 – 15)||Chapters 32-43||April 9|
|April 16||End (Chs. 33-40)||End (Book Three 16-39)||Chapters 44-49||April 16|
Born in 1949, he is a post-war baby. Changes in Japan include the humanization of the god-like emperor, Westernization, and migration to Tokyo (25% of Japan’s population–30 million–live in 5% of land), paying the equivalent of $200,000/yr for 600 sq. foot apartments and commuting up to 6 hours a day. One newspaper writes: “No one seems to know in which direction to turn; all we know is that we are dissatisfied.” Japan is a blank slate to be filled, and Murakami’s protagonists ricochet from one American artifact to another.
One novel, Norwegian Wood – sold two million in 1987—making Murakami the equivalent of a “rock star”!
His stories are a postmodern mutation of comedy, science fiction, magical realism, detective story, film noir, the surreal, the deadpan. His protagonists are nameless, rootless loners – “nowhere men” (Beatles)– downwardly mobile, disconnected males, worn out, lethargic, suffering ennui, often leaving careers on a quest for meaning that winds up having many layers. They are not caught in the corporate trap or mindless consumerism. They stand apart and watch objectively. But if we look too long into the abyss, says Nietzsche, it may look back into us.
Critics say his is an “export-style fiction,” stripped of anything culturally specific to Japan, therefore conspiring in an “erasure of history.”
Linguistic minimalism—Murakami’s formula for a new Japanese story to replace the loss of the old. Cadence, complex syntax, and literary rhetoric is burned away; technological acceleration and abbreviation are the keys. He actually began writing in English (but had only rudimentary language) and then translated that style into Japanese! He found that he could move weighty ideas through insubstantial words.
We don’t have to go very far to find Freudian symbols in this story. As interesting, however, is the psychology of our main character and the author’s position as a male writer assuming a position as a female protagonist and also offering the symbols he does!
Original title was “Bato Bakarakku wa o-sukl?” or, “Do You Like Burt Bacharach?”
Explores not only what is done, but what is not done. . . . nostalgia and regret of decisions past.
. . . the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler’s Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of the Raging Winds”
A game of words . . . and memory.
What is meta-fiction? And how does the blurring of literary border also cross the borders of reason?
“In other words, the way in which right brain and left brain are split (which, needless to say, is a convenient fiction; left and right are never actually divided) holds the key.”
This is story.
I realize now that the reality of things is not something you convey to people but something you make. It is this that gives birth to meaning.
“I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, ‘It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.’ I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.”
“A person’s destiny is something you look back at after it’s past, not something you see in advance.”
“What I don’t like about detective fiction is when the detective solves the mystery. That’s always the most boring part. . . . What I really wanted to write is a mystery without a solution. . . . Mysteries are real. But the solution is not real.”
“As individuals each of us is extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a prototypical memory.”
“Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside.”
Questions for Haruki Murakami about Kafka on the Shore
Q: What made you want to retell the Oedipus myth? Did you have a plan to do this when you started Kafka On The Shore or did it come about during the writing?
A: The Oedipus myth is just one of several motifs and isn’t necessarily the central element in the novel. From the start I planned to write about about a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from his sinister father and sets off on a journey in search of his mother. This naturally linked up with the Oedipus myth. But as I recall, I didn’t have that myth in mind at the beginning. Myths are the prototype for all stories. When we write a story on our own it can’t help but link up with all sorts of myths. Myths are like a reservoir containing every story there is.
Q: With the exception of Norwegian Wood, your novels, especially this new one, have a very dreamlike fantasy element to them. What is it that drives you into this realm?
A: Norwegian Wood is, as you’ve said, the only one written in a realistic style. I did this intentionally, of course. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a 100% realistic novel. And I think this experiment proved helpful later on. I gained the confidence I could write this way; otherwise it would have been pretty hard to complete the work that came afterwards. For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. 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.
Q: A quick Google search shows off the many fans you have in America, all eagerly awaiting your next novel. As a Japanese novelist, why do you think your fiction resonates so strongly with this audience?
A: I think people who share my dreams can enjoy reading my novels. And that’s a wonderful thing. I said that myths are like a reservoir of stories, and if I can act as a similar kind of “reservoir,” albeit a modest one, that would make me very happy.
Q: What are some aspects of Japanese culture that you think a reader can glean from your novels? Are there other characteristics that you wish we Americans understood before we even picked up the books?
A: When I write a novel I put into play all the information inside me. It might be Japanese information or it might be Western; I don’t draw a distinction between the two. I can’t imagine how American readers will react to this, but in a novel if the story is appealing it doesn’t matter much if you don’t catch all the detail. I’m not too familiar with the geography of nineteenth century London, for instance, but I still enjoy reading Dickens.
Q: Before “postmodernism” became a buzzword, Franz Kafka explored that particular condition of isolation associated with a post-nuclear, new-millennium world. Did you name your protagonist after him to draw out these themes, or were there other reasons?
A: It goes without saying that Kafka is one of my very favorite writers. But I don’t think my novels or characters are directly influenced by him. What I mean is, Kafka’s fictional world is already so complete that trying to follow in his steps is not just pointless, but quite risky, too. What I see myself doing, rather, is writing novels where, in my own way, I dismantle the fictional world of Kafka that itself dismantled the existing novelistic system. One could view this as a kind of homage to Kafka, I suppose. To tell the truth, I don’t really have a firm grasp of what’s meant by postmodernism, but I do have the sense that what I’m trying to do is slightly different. At any rate, what I’d like to be is a unique writer who’s different from everybody else. I want to be a writer who tells stories unlike other writers’.
Q: Throughout this book, you reference the “Rice Bowl Hill incident,” in which a group of children lost consciousness during a school outing in the hills. Do the fictional investigations of this incident have a basis in real historical events or news stories? Did your experience as a journalist inform this part of the novel?
A: I’d rather not go into that.
Q: Nakata, the other main character, is a lovable victim of the school disaster who is unlike everyone around him. What led you to create this sort of character?
A: I’m always interested in people who’ve dropped out of society, those who’ve withdrawn from it. Most of the people in Kafka on the Shore are, in one sense or another, outside the mainstream. Nakata is most definitely one of them. Why did I create a character like him? It must be because I like him. It’s a long novel, and the author has to have at least one character he loves unconditionally.
Q: Cats appear frequently in your fiction, and in this book they play a particularly memorable role, what with the detailed description of how a deranged sculptor preys on cats. Why are cats so important to your characters and your stories?
A: It must be because I’m personally fond of cats. I’ve always had them around since I was little. But I don’t know whether they have any other significance.
Q: Your protagonist Kafka discovers a song, “Kafka on the Shore,” and wonders if the woman who wrote it knew what the lyrics meant. Another character says, “Not necessarily. Symbolism and meaning are two separate things.” Since your novel and the song share a title, how much does this statement say about the the novel itself? Do its symbols point to a larger meaning?
A: I don’t know a whole lot about symbolism. There seems to me to be a potential danger in symbolism. I feel more comfortable with metaphors and similes. I don’t really know what the lyrics of the song mean, or whether they even have any meaning in the first place. It might be much easier to understand if someone set the lyrics to music and sang it.
Q: We hear that your Japanese publisher has actually produced a website to help readers understand the meaning of this book. Since we won’t be able to read the site, can you tell us in your own words what some of the “secrets” of the book are?
A: On this website in the space of three months I received over 8,000 questions from readers, and personally responded to over 1,200 of them. It was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed it. What I concluded from this exchange was that the key to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times. This may sound self-serving, but it’s true. I know people are busy—and it depends, too, on whether they feel like doing it—but if you have the time, I suggest reading the novel more than once. Things should be clearer the second time around. I’ve read it, of course, dozens of times as I rewrote it, and each time I did, slowly but surely the whole started to come into sharper focus.
Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.
Q: All of your characters, both in this book and in previous novels, display a really interesting appreciation for jazz, classical, and rock music. What musical pieces would you include on a Murakami playlist of sorts that would represent the range of music in your books?
A: Music is an indispensible part of my life. Whenever I write a novel, music just sort of naturally slips in (much like cats do, I suppose.) When I was writing my newest novel, After Dark, the melody of Curtis Fuller’s “Five Spot After Dark” kept running through my head. Music always stimulates my imagination. When I’m writing I usually have some Baroque music on low in the background—chamber music by Bach, Telemann, and the like.
Q: Being an author who is read in translation, could you talk a little bit about what you think makes a good translation?
A: I’ve translated a lot of American literature into Japanese, and I think that what makes a good translator is, above all, a feel for language (a pretty obvious point) and also a great affection for the work you’re translating. If one of those elements is missing the translation won’t be worth much. Unless I have to for some reason, I seldom reread my previous books (in Japanese), but I do sometimes reread the English translations. I find it enjoyable precisely because of the distance from the original text. In most cases I really enjoy reading these.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: In the fall of 2004 I brought out a new novel, After Dark. And in the U.S. in 2006 we’ll publish my second short story collection in English, my first since The Elephant Vanishes. So in anticipation of that, I’ll be working on some new short stories this fall and winter. On the translation side, I’m presently translating a collection of Grace Paley’s short stories. I really like her work. Translating her stories is very difficult, but I always do my very best.
A Conversation with Philip Gabriel, translator of Kafka on the Shore
Q: As the translator of several Murakami novels and stories, how do you think Kafka on the Shore fits into his body of work? Do you think it’s a departure from previous novels, or a return to a particular style?
A: Murakami’s novels always take off in new directions at the same time that they build on the body of work that came before. In the case of Kafka, there are echoes of previous works; for instance, the two parallel narratives are reminiscent of the structure of Hardboiled Wonderland. What’s most strikingly a new departure, in terms of style, is having a fifteen-year-old narrator instead of Murakami’s typical thirty-something narrator. Still, the novel is recognizably Murakami throughout.
Q: What were some of the challenges in translating this novel?
A: The greatest challenge was to find the right voice for the two main characters, Kafka and Nakata, neither of whom are fully adults. On the one hand, you have a bright fifteen-year-old boy, on the other, a sixtyish old man who never developed, mentally, beyond a child. Being true to these two characters means being constrained a bit in the level of vocabulary you can employ. This is different from earlier Murakami novels, which typically feature an adult first person narrator and a cast of adult speakers. Another challenge lay in finding ways to deal with some of the word play in the text. This is the kind of thing that sometimes takes days of experimenting.
Q: On the flip side, were there any new joys or discoveries in translating this novel?
A: Translating always involves intensive, close readings of the text, probably more intensive than most people realize, and one of the great joys of the work is getting so intimate with the original text that it starts to feel like a part of your daily life. And for a work of this length and depth this feeling is intensified. The character Hoshino says at one point that he’s starting to see the world through Nakata’s eyes, and a similar feeling came over me in regard to the text—I started to feel as though I was seeing the world through the filter of the novel. And as always with a novel of Murakami, it is a distinct pleasure to work closely with an author who is a noted translator himself, who understands the difficulties involved in translating, and who is always more than willing to make construction suggestions. I really enjoy this interaction.
Q: In an e-mail roundtable between you, Jay Rubin and Gary Fisketjohn from 2001, you talked about how much the translator takes on the role of editor. How much editing would you say you did on Kafka?
A: There was only one short section (about one page or so) that the editor thought might be omitted, but I argued to have it retained, and it was. Like any book, Kafka goes through many hands and many eyes before it reaches the reader. Beyond the usual copy-editing and improvements the editor made to my translation, the text has not been cut and nothing has been edited out. Kafka in my translation is whole and complete.
Q: As both main characters set out on journeys, there is a wonderful vision of Japanese countryside in this book. For American readers who have not visited Japan, do you think this is a realistic vision of the country?
A: What stands out to me about the descriptions of the countryside is the juxtaposition of the sterile anonymity of highways and roadside rest areas with the total silence of the massive forest. The depictions of “civilization” are realistic, but the forest seems more like something from the realm of the imaginary. I find the descriptions of the forest some of the most memorable passages in the novel.
Q: The character Nakata seemed familiar to many of us; in his strangeness he was almost an American archetype—the simple-minded but lovable guy who you learn something by reading about. (The first example to come to mind is Forrest Gump.) Would you say this type of character is a common archetype in Japanese literature?
A: I’d say Nakata is a new type of character in Japanese literature, and therein lies part of Murakami’s originality. I think Nakata’s companion Hoshino hits it on the head when he suggests that there is something spiritual about Nakata. Being with Nakata gives Hoshino the feeling he imagines Buddha’s or Jesus’s followers felt, a certain “rightness” about the world when he’s around. While the novel is certainly “about” Kafka, almost equal time is given to Nakata, who is one of the more memorable of Murakami’s fictional characters.
Kafka on the Shore
- Chapter 5
I had no idea about music so I just went down the row of CDs they had there, giving them all a listen. That’s how I got to know about Duke Ellington, the Beatles, and Led Zepplin.
- Chapter 15
I go sit on the porch, gaze at the woods, and listen to Cream and Duke Ellington on my Walkman, songs I recorded off a library’s collection of CDs. I play “Crossroads” a couple of times.
oppositions . . .
- Chapter 25
I put the records on the turntable, one after another. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, The Beatles’ White Album, Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, Stan Getz’s Getz/Gilberto—all hit albums from the 1960s.