Hey buddy, can you spare a book? // Kafka on the shore and why I keep coming back to Murakami

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It was the year 2011. My sister Dzenana and I were seated each at our designated spot (she at the computer and me at the corner of this kitschy thing of a sofa) in our little studio apartment. A song, I don’t even remember which one, was playing in the background, and I turned to my sister and asked her, dead serious: “Do we like this song?” Well, that pretty much sums up the core of our relationship. We’re basically the same person, so much so that a new colleague at our then current job thought Kadira is just a nickname used to refer to Dzenana (?!) To say that we fostered an unhealthy dose of co-dependence would be an understatement. Over time, and with some personal growth we started developing separate tastes, which I frankly found a bit worrisome, being afraid that we had lost our mojo. Luckily, we recently came to an agreement that Justin Bieber has grown to be a hot guy, so all is good in the universe again.

Bila je to godina 2011. Moja sestra Dženana i ja sedele smo svaka na svom mestu (ona za kompom ja u uglu kičastog kauča koji je neki nesrećnik osmislio vodeći se parolom više je više) u naša 24 kvadrata. U pozadini je išla sad se već i ne sećam koja pesma i ja sam se okrenula ka Dženani i mrtva ozbiljna pitala: „E, svidja l’ nam se ovo?“ E to je ukratko suština našeg odnosa. Mi smo u osnovi ista osoba, do te mere da je nova koleginica na poslu mislila da je Kadira samo neko drugo ime kojim zovu Dženanu (!?). Malo je reći da smo gajile nezdravu dozu međusobne zavisnosti. Vremenom i sazrevanjem krenule smo da razvijamo sopstvene ukuse, koji su počeli da me zabrinjavaju da nismo izgubile svoj mojo. Srećom, skoro smo se složile da je Džastin Biber izrastao u dobrog frajera, tako da je u univerzumu opet sve ok.

Given the fact that we both hold a Master’s in English literature, it was inevitable (but not entirely called for) that we would develop a somewhat snobbish taste when it comes to books, and refuse to read anything that was not a) written in the English-speaking world and b) critically acclaimed. On top of that, we have this sort of aversion towards things that are overly hyped, so we would, more often than not, not listen to/read/wear what everyone else does. In a way, we were the perfect High Fidelity stereotype, something along the lines of: „ Yeah, seriously, you’re totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit onto people who know lesser than you.”  I’d like to believe that we have grown to be better people since then. Which brings us to Murakami. My first encounter with the works of this author was through Norwegian Wood. Final impressions: Ok, so this guy is sort of passive, he’s not really living his life, rather the life is half-living him. Things sort of fall upon him, he gets into weird and unwanted situations from which he can’t/won’t get out, a couple of people die, things are left unsaid, issues unresolved. I was neither impressed nor completely disappointed, but I found myself strangely drawn to his works. So, I picked up another tittle, and this time it was Sputnik Sweetheart. Again, the same inconspicuous, does-not-stand-out type of guy, who has a hard time figuring out whether he likes his breakfast, let alone a girl. He is again presented with an unwanted situation that he kind of passively stumbles through, a girl disappears forever, things are left unsaid. After this second book I said to myself, well, this is like a Coldplay album, just one never-ending song, and at that point, Murakami and I went our separate ways. We remained separated until now, until Kafka on the Shore.

Budući da smo obe studirale englesku književnost, neminovno (ali ne  uvek i osnovano) stvorile smo, blago je reći, snobovski ukus kad su knjige u pitanju, i odbijale da čitamo bilo šta što a)nije napisano na englesko-govornom području i b) nije se proslavilo u očima kritike. Osim toga, gajimo tu averziju prema stvarima koje su previše hajpovane pa nekad iz nezrelog inata nećemo nositi/čitati/slušati . Ukratko mi smo bile onaj stereotip iz knjige High Fidelity: „ Yeah, seriously, you’re totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit onto people who know lesser than you.”  Volim da verujem da smo od tad postale malo bolji ljudi. Što nas dovodi do Murakamija. Moj prvi susret sa ovim autorom desio se čitanjem knjige Norveška Šuma. Krajnji utisak: Ok, ovaj lik je malo pasivan, ne živi život već on nekako životari njega, stvari ga prosto snađu i eto tako upada u čudne i neželjene situacije iz kojih ne ume/neće da se izvuče, par ljudi umre, stvari ostanu nedorečene. Nisam bila ni impresionirana ali ni razočana, a ipak, nešto neobjašnjivo me je vuklo da kupim još jednu. Ovog puta bio je to Sputnik Ljubav. Opet neupadljiv lik koji ima određenu rutinu, ne zna kako se oseća po pitanju svog doručka a ne da li mu se neka žena sviđa ili ne, opet situacija u koju nevoljno upadne ali svakako pasivno tetura kroz nju , žena koja zauvek nestaje, i nedorečen kraj. Posle ove knjige rekoh sebi, pa ovo je ko album Coldplay-a – jedna te ista pesma koja nikako da se završi, i to je bio trenutak u kom smo se Murakami i ja rastali. Sve do sad, do Kafka na Obali Mora.

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What got me hooked from the very first page was the fact that this time, instead of dealing with another middle-aged man, the reader is presented with the young Kafka. Kafka is speaking to a boy named Crow (who may or may not be his alter-ego, an imaginary friend, what have you), as he plans his escape from home. All that we know at this point is that Kafka is under some premonition of an Oedipal curse and it is essential that he leave his home and his father. Parallel to his story is the story of Nakata, an elderly man who, as a young boy, lost all his memories, his intelligence and understanding of the world, all due to a traumatic and inexplicable event during a school field-trip. What makes Nakata special, however, is his ability to converse with cats. The fates of these two characters are inextricably and supernaturally linked, and it is fate that leads them both to a town called Takamatsu. There, Kafka meets and befriends Oshima, a young woman who identifies as a gay man (points for inclusivity), and it is Oshima who helps Kafka find the answers related to his mother and sister, as well as his soul. Nakata, like Blanche from Streetcar Named Desire, will rely on the kindness of strangers in order to get to Takamatsu and find a white round stone that is in fact a portal leading to a realm that contains the souls of those characters walking the earth as empty shells (Miss Saeki, Kafka’s father, and also Nakata).

Na samom početku dopalo mi se što za razliku od sredovečnog pasivnog muškarca susrećemo sa mladim Kafkom koji razgovara sa dečakom (koji može biti njegov alter ego ili imaginarni prijatelj, nemoguće je reći) dok se sprema da pobegne od kuće. Sve što znamo o razlogu njegovog bega jeste da ga prati neka vrsta edipovskog prokletstva i da je od ključne važnosti da napusti svog oca. Paralelno sa njegovom pričom, roman prati i život Nakate, starijeg čoveka kom je nakon neobjašnjivog iskustva za vreme školskog izleta prosto “isparila” sva pamet i razumevanje sveta koji ga okružuje. Ono što ga čini posebnim jeste to što ima sposobnost da govori sa mačkama, pa mu je osim socijalne pomoći to način da zaradi malo dodatnog novca. Naravno njihove sudbine su neobjašnjivo povezane i obojicu će ih odvesti u grad Takamatsu, gde će Kafka upoznati i sprijateljiti se sa Ošimom, mladom devojkom koja se identifikuje kao gej muškarac  (bravo za inkluzivnost), koja će mu pomoći da dođe do odgovora vezanih za izgubljenu majku i sestru, i pronađe svoju dušu. Nakata će se, kao Blanš iz drame Tramvaj Zvani Želja “osloniti na dobrotu stranaca” kako bi došao do istog grada i pronašao beli kamen koji predstavlja portal ka drugoj stvarnosti u kojoj su zatočene duše likova koji svetom hodaju kao prazne ljušture (gospođica Saeki, Kafkin otac pa i sam Nakata).

Given that their lives and respective pilgrimages happen at almost the same time, the chapters are organized in a parallel order. In my opinion this is an excellent narrative strategy since it pushes the reader into a page-turning frenzy, making him eager to finish one chapter in order to keep up with the endeavors of the other character. Magic realism is abundantly present – talking with cats, thousands of fishes and leaches falling from the sky, a magical portal-opening stone, a strange entity taking shape of Colonel Sanders and so forth. Reading this book, at times I felt as if I were watching a film by Almodovar. Sure, I am aware that it is far from normal for a daughter to kill her father and have her mother put him in freezer of a an abandoned restaurant which she later takes over and moves on with her life. Then again, who has time to think about a dead man stuck in a freezer when there is a ghost of the mother resurfacing? The same is with Kafka on the Shore. You can’t be bothered to ponder leaches from the sky when you are dying to know what’s gonna happen with the big white stone.

S obzirom na to da se njihovi životi i putešestvija odvijaju paralelno, tako su postavljena i poglavlja knjige – malo Kafke, malo Nakate i tako redom, što je moram priznati odlična narativna strategija jer tera čitaoca da stigne do kraja jednog poglavlja kako bi saznao šta će se u međuvremenu dešavalo u životu jednog odnosno drugog lika. Magičnog realizma ne manjka – tu je razgovaranje sa mačkama, hiljade riba i pijavica koje padaju sa neba, čudesni kamen, neodređeni entitet u liku Pukovnika Sandersa (osnivač KFC lanca brze hrane). Dok sam čitala knjigu na momente sam se osećala kao da gledam Almodovarov film. Svesna sam da nije normalno da ćerka ubije svog očuha i da ga njena majka sakrije u frižider restorana koji prisvoji, otvori i nastavi sa životom. Ko ima vremena da razmislja o mrtvacu u frižideru kada je tu duh majke koji se pojavljuje godinama nakon svoje smrti. Tako je i sa Kafkom. Ne možeš razmišljati o pijavicama s neba kada čekaš da vidiš šta će se desiti sa magičnim belim kamenom.

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The book is just over 600 pages long, but reads as if it were half the size. It’s exciting, dark, ominous, funny, even sexy at times, but most of all it is simply brilliantly written. I am aware that Murakami out there doesn’t care much if one person returns to his books. Regardless of that, I have bought four more, which I guess means that I am officially back under his spell. Murakami to me is like a literary DiCaprio – you know he deserves the Nobel prize, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. Then again, with his amount of popularity among readers, perhaps he’s not even pining over it.

And just in case you were wondering, my sister is still on page 31 of Dance Dance Dance, so it’s safe to say that we are no longer the same person (although unlike Murakami’s characters, we’re not wandering around like empty shells, in case you were concerned).

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Kniga broji nešto vise od 600 strana ali se čita kao da je upola manja. Uzbudljiva, mračna, duhovita, i nadasve brilijantno napisana. Znam da Murakami ne mari za to da li će se jedna osoba vratiti njegovim knjigama ili ne, ali eto, ja sam posle ove kupila još četiri, što će reći da sam zvanično opet pod njegovim činima. Murakami mi dođe kao književni Leonardo Dikaprio, znaš da mu treba dati Nobelovu nagradu al se ipak to nekako ne dešava. Mada, sa ovolikom dozom popularnosti, možda i ne pati za tim.

A budući da je Dzenana još uvek na 31. strani knjige Igraj Igraj Igraj, mislim da je očigledno da vise nismo ista osoba (mada za razliku od Murakamijevih likova ne hodamo svetom kao prazne ljušture, ako ste brinuli).

P.S. Knjiga moze biti nađena kako u knjižarama Vulkan i Delfi , kako na engleskom tako i na srpskom jeziku, a tu je takođe i sajt Bookdepository čija je pogodnost to da je poštarina besplatna, ali se malo čeka na isporuku.

Do sledećeg puta, XOXO K.

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