a summary of findings

I get quite a buzz whenever I encounter anything very thought-provoking – whether it be another blog, a novel, a quote, or, as was the case on the week-end, a talk. More specifically, it was a panel discussion that was part of the World Science Festival. (I also randomly attended one that was kind of linked to International Women’s Day, but it might be a while before I get around to posting about it.)

I went to this talk/discussion/whatever-you-want-to-call-it on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about what they discussed, and I’ve realised that there is so much that I want to write about. And what a wonderful feeling that is!

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on the edge

Imagine, if you will, a line on a page that starts at point A …and then goes all over the page in random directions – sharp corners and smooth curves, unexpected twists and sudden turns. A line that moves unpredictably, even moving off the page, in three dimensions, like the most extreme and most impossible rollercoaster you can imagine. And, like a rollercoaster, the line eventually returns to point A, where it started. And you enjoyed the ride for the most part, but the journey was almost beyond belief.

That’s pretty much how I feel after reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I thought I’d read some pretty weird and random novels in the past (e.g. ‘The World According to Garp’) but this was on another level altogether.

I was initially quite excited to find a copy of KOTS at the library, and even more excited to start reading it. I’m not really sure why, but I just felt like this was going to be an important book – a significant and meaningful story. Well, I certainly can’t say that I was disappointed. It’s definitely a rather deep, philosophical and thought-provoking read.

At times, when I was most immersed in the book, it felt like it was slowly, subtlely changing my way of thinking, making me look at things differently, so that I see significance in minor details, while realising the unnecessary attention and emphasis given to things of little import (in the grand scheme of things). It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s almost like the surreality (not sure if that’s actually a proper, accepted word) of KOTS seeped into the real world.

But, being honest (and I’m always honest here), I’m not entirely sure of what I’ve taken away, or what I’ve learnt, from reading KOTS. I actually don’t really fully understand the point of Kafka’s journey (as I said, it was like a crazy rollercoaster that finished where it started). And then there’s the other characters – Nakata, Hoshino, Oshima, Miss Saeki – and the interplay between them all. They sometimes seem too convenient to the story, especially how Oshima and Miss Saeki take Kafka in, and how Hoshino randomly decides to tag along with Nakata to help him out just because he reminds him of his grandpa.

I feel like maybe I could decipher it all if I went back through the book and really thought about it and deconstructed everything, but I also feel like part of the profoundness of the book arises from this confusion and mystery. I’m also thinking that perhaps the story feels important because it always seemed like Kafka was doing important things. But it’s not that straight-forward (KOTS is most definitely not a straight-forward book) because, as I said, he just returns to point A in the end. So was it really that important?

I’m not even sure that this post is making much sense. I reckon the books I read influence how I write (whether these effects are far-reaching or short-lived is another matter) and maybe KOTS has left my mind a bit disjointed.

While I was still reading KOTS, I wrote down some words to describe the story: abstract, bizarre, “interesting”, thought-provoking, etc. I think “thought-provoking” is the best descriptor – not just because it has made me think about life, but because I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on. It was one WTF moment after another. There were also some unanswered questions at the end, so if you like having all loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion of a story, then you might not be too fond of KOTS.

This was my first Murakami novel and, I think, the first novel I’ve read that’s been translated from Japanese. I reckon I’ll always have reservations about reading translated texts, but until I have the mental and temporal capacity to learn Japanese, French, Spanish, etc (or re-learn for Japanese), I’m afraid I have to trust in other people’s interpretations (or otherwise miss out on incredible stories like this one). I consider Japanese to be quite an eloquent and beautiful language, and I think that this preconception made me feel like the English translation didn’t do the story justice. There were several occasions when I paused during my reading and wondered if some of the nuances had been lost because, despite the scope of the English language, there are still feelings and concepts that we don’t have words for.

I did try to ignore the fact that it was a translated version but it wasn’t as easy to do as with other translated novels I’ve read (e.g. ‘The Angel’s Game’). Nevertheless, in the end, I almost feel like the juxtaposition between the simple – well, not simple per se, but not-as-nuanced language – the contrast between that and the complex nature of the subject matter actually kind of worked out well. But, you know, who am I to say that the translation wasn’t wholly accurate?

I reckon ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is one of those novels that could be discussed for hours on end – if only I knew people who have read it. As with ‘The World According to Garp’, I wish I could recommend KOTS to everyone, but I’m not sure if many of my friends would actually enjoy it. I suppose if you like to be challenged by what you read, then try ‘Kafka on the Shore’, or try any Murakami novels. I’m definitely keen to read more of his works.

it is written

So it seems like I’m starting the year off with some rather thought-provoking books. First it was “The Little Prince”, today I’ve just finished reading “The Alchemist”, and next in line is Anh Do’s “The Happiest Refugee” (which I picked up at the Lifeline Bookfest for a bargain price!)

“The Alchemist” (by Paulo Coelho) was lent to me by the same friend who lent me “The Little Prince”. One of the review excerpts on the back cover said that the former is “as memorable and meaningful” as the latter, so I was expecting some good things from this. I did previously want to read “The Alchemist” anyway, but I suppose it just got lost amongst all the other books on my “to read” list…

However, before I proceed with this review, I must admit that I feel like my opinion of the book has been biased by how much my good friend likes the book so, although I don’t tend to be very harsh in my criticism anyway, I probably have a more positive opinion of the novel than I would if I’d just picked it up myself.

Nevertheless, I did find “The Alchemist” to be quite philosophical and thought-provoking, and there is a kind of poetic and enchanting quality about the story (even though it is a translated text, and I have this belief that it’s hard for translated texts to do justice to the original because each language has its own subtleties and nuances).

The novel talks a lot about realising one’s destiny and pursuing one’s “personal legend”. Other recurrent concepts include recognising omens as messages from God, and this word Maktub, which roughly translates to “it is written”. And then, of course, this recurring quote: “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. I almost feel like the book was trying to teach me too many things and making me ask too many questions of myself, but I suppose it’s all part of the journey of (self-) discovery.

I also found it interesting that the first sentence of the book introduces the name of “the boy” as Santiago, but he was always referred to thereafter as “the boy” and never as “Santiago”. Actually, now that I think of it, very few of the characters actually have names. Oh well, as they say, what is in a name…

I suppose “The Alchemist” is similar to “The Little Prince” in terms of the protagonist going on a journey and meeting new people and learning a great deal about the important things in life, but I reckon I like “The Little Prince” more because it just seemed more … relatable. “The Alchemist” was definitely a worthwhile read, though, and is probably something I could re-read.