Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Friday, February 26, 2010

(Originally printed in the FEU Advocate August 2007 issue as part of the Refreshments review corner. Republished with certain edits and changes for consistency with this blog’s other book reviews and, of course, applying the virtue of hindsight)

Living is mechanical. Everyday feels like a routine, making ourselves our own slavedrivers. Yet we say we are free, but how free are we if a pre-established ‘morality’ and ‘ethics’ are shoved to our faces? Is existence compelled to destiny?
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: J. Philip Gabriel
Published: English language release on 2005
New York Times 10 Best Books of 2005, World Fantasy Awards

Kafka Tamura is a fifteen-year old boy determined to leave his father’s jurisdiction. He ran away with a rucksack and money he has been saving for quite some time. Along the way, he meets Sakura who might be his sister, and Ms. Saeki who just might be his mother. Kafka eventually nurtured a seemingly Oedipal complex as his feelings towards Ms. Saeki develops during his short-lived stay in her private library.

Concurrent with Kafka’s wandering is Nakata, whose existence roots deep with Kafka. Nakata ‘was’ smart, but something happened during the war which rendered dim-witted. He has never recovered or matured intellectually, surviving merely from a subsidy, which he calls ‘sub city’, from the City Mayor. Every day seems like yesterday until the good-natured Nakata felt compelled to stab Johnnie Walker—yes, the fine whisky is a character. Running away from the police, Nakata is obliged to meet Kafka, with Ms. Saeki’s private library as rendezvous.

As Kafka and Nakata ran, destiny weaves them both in an indefinite tangle.

Reading Experience
Murakami’s writing is vividly unique. His storyline delivery has a consistent shifting of the two primary characters’ viewpoint. This is not confusing to the reader, but it’s like closing your mouth after noticing that it has been hanging open for awhile. Like a full stop, turn left, another full stop, this time turning right. This style, at times, may make you drop the book for a certain number of hours, days or even weeks before picking it up again until the characters have grown on you, and you feel their grip stronger than before.

But what is most unique in Murakami’s style is his characters. Apart from the obvious connection between Kafka and Nakata, other characters turn out to be deeply interconnected. This is also the book where I met Oshima, probably one of the most complicated contemporary literary characters I have encountered. Furthermore, the characters undeniably felt humane; they pee, they get aroused, masturbate and have sex. With such frames, Murakami was able to target consciousness expansion. He covered several moral sensitive areas of sexuality and individuality; politics, juvenile delinquency, crime, and even incest.

In Conclusion
Kafka on the Shore is probably one of the books close to the epicenter of magical realism. Such is delivered in varying ways; fishes fall from the sky, cats talk, a rain of leeches, dreams can be perpetrated, and a daunting shape-shifter exists.

Departing from the usual presentation of a fresh perspective on not-so-fresh issues, Kafka on the Shore bends your mind’s eyesight into a questioning state which will lead to a renewed outlook. It's a book bound to make you think, ponder, and interpret; a mental exercise for your imagination.


Mythology by Edith Hamilton

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There is practically no easier read or convenient reference for Greek Mythology other than Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Over the years, this book has been published for educational purposes and leisure. A book bound to quell a thirst for knowledge about the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus.

Author: Edith Hamilton
Published: 1942
In 1957, Edith Hamilton was made an honorary citizen of Athens

Reading Experience
Mythology; Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, is an authoritative compendium of Greek Mythology. Hamilton effectively collated various Greek poems and stories into fluid, readable texts. Readers can also deduce from her introductions, the meticulous and detailed binding of cohesive and resonant story chunks from various Greek writers. Through this careful undertaking, Hamilton was able to determine certain disparities especially with the Olympians' persona and certain story lines.

She is also consistent in describing the style of Greek literary authorities such as Ovid, Aeschylus and Homer. I find her consistent description of Ovid’s ‘unnecessarily decorative’ style funny, providing timely humor amidst the grim fates of most characters. But she does give credit where it is due not only with Ovid, but also with other Greek writers who were sources for her compilation. In addition, the writing style is straightforward, inclusive only of what is essential. 

I also commend the inclusion of a mythological genealogy at the back of the book. Since the Olympians have a persistent affinity in procreating with mortals, I had a huge temptation of actually jotting down their lineage. Fortunately, I read the table of contents, which is usually overlooked, and was quite surprised that Hamilton has already done it for the readers. This is highly convenient especially for those who have academic endeavours, like a report or an essay about a god or hero.

Furthermore, there is ease of transition between the Greek gods and goddesses and their Roman counterparts. A reader would not be lost in the woods trying to identify who's who.

It also included Norse mythology and the harrowing belief in heroism in the face of defeat, that Odin can only delay Ragnarok but everything is bound to end in ruins.

In Conclusion
If you find yourself facing a Greek mythology report as an academic hurdle, or a hunger for knowledge about the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, you can never go wrong with Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. It’s complete, compact and a clean smooth read. It’s like having a textbook without its daunting read, but a novel’s fluid storytelling.


Reading List as of February 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I'll be posting a review of Edith Hamilton's Mythology before the week ends. Well Percy Jackson, or rather Rick Riordan, was successful in making me review Greek mythology in preparation for Book Two of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters.
I'm currently reading, When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, which is really funny and at the same time perceptive. It is a compilation of the author's essays and often hilarious delivery and take on things. 
I am also reading  Book Two of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters--which was surprisingly hard to find. I somehow felt like there is a race that I don't know about, and worse, I feel like I'm part of it.

And I still am reading Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and it's almost a year since I picked it up. Oh well.

The next books in my reading list are:
1) Book Three of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
2) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Volume 2 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
and hopefully,
3) another Magical Realism book.


Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I jumped on the bandwagon, so what? I enjoyed the ride.

Author: Rick Riordan
Released: 2005
New York Times Bestseller
Already a major motion picture

The Greek gods are still alive, and procreating, with mortals. Percy Jackson is a by-product of an Olympian Deity—more specifically, a son of Poseidon. Kicked out of school every year, friendless, dyslexic and has ADHD, no one knew, especially Percy himself, that his fate will shatter the barriers of myth and reality. Well no one but the Oracle perhaps, since its reason for existence is riddling out prophecies.

Mount Olympus, with the address; 600th Floor, the Empire State Building, New York City, NY, is at the brink of war. Someone stole Zeus’s Master Bolt, a symbol of power and also a potent weapon of mass destruction. The indignant Zeus points his finger at his proud brother, Poseidon. With his pride hurt, Poseidon is willing to make a stand, refusing to prove his innocence, deeming the act ungodly. 

But as Percy reaches Camp Half-Blood, the blame is passed on, and Percy is suspected of a grand thievery. Fresh from the discovery of being a demigod, Percy has to prevent Mount Olympus from ripping apart and has exactly ten days before a war between the sky and the sea is declared. And to do that, he needs to return Zeus’s Master Bolt, clearing his involvement in the process—or so he thinks.

Reading Experience
If you’re looking for a mature read, as early as now, I’m telling you not to read it. But if you are willing to let the child in you play, then by all means get a copy.

The first of the series ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ is the Lightning Thief. Rick Riordan certainly has a flare for light reading as he toyed with Greek mythology and adventure, and the two already sounds redundant. To review it in comparison to other titles with more depth and maturity in them would be unjust, not to say that the entire plot lacks depth, but not as frequent. It lacks the quality of making you contemplate on a thought, or passage, marvel with the depth of interpretation—but it makes you grin, grope for some knowledge of the Greek gods, if you ever had some.

Riordan’s writing is well-paced, and enjoyable. The pages continually flick from one to the next. His style has this fluidity and adequate humor immersed in Percy’s storytelling. Like Twilight the book is told from the protagonist’s point of view, but unlike Twilight, it doesn’t have a sort of school girl love story fantasy. It is fantasy yes, but more along the lines of Harry Potter; adventure and magic, well in this case, mythology.

Riordan also nailed his characters’ persona and aura well. With use of dialogue, description and behavior the three main characters: Percy, Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and Grover, the satyr, it is easy for the reader to establish their signatures, preventing a volatile personality.

Mentioning Harry Potter is purposeful. There are a lot of similarities between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, aside from both of them being listed on the New York Times bestseller list. However, most similarities are acceptable because they are original in Riordan’s way. I just have to note such likeness because anyone who have read Harry Potter would be compelled to compare it, and trust me, it would take a lot of willpower not to.

There’s a strong resemblance between The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lightning Thief, like Harry was 11 when he got through a dungeon full of obstacles designed by adult powerful wizards while Percy is 12 when he defeated Ares, the god of war, in a swordfight.

But it would pay to enjoy the book as it is, well at least I did. A new conceptual world, mythological creatures coming to life and attacking, an oddly similar yet different chase with two demigods and a satyr are all for the readers’ taking. Riordan has his own brand of storytelling, and so far it’s good. You may need to brush up on your Greek mythology but Riordan is able to snug adequate snippets within the storyline. Or better yet, another kudos to Riordan, in making the reader interested in Greek mythology.

In Conclusion
I’m not encouraging you to read the book, well at least for now, since it has already hit the cinemas. And movie adaptations rarely satisfies avid book readers, I would recommend watching the film first, not that I have seen it yet, but I do intend to. In that sequence, you’ll enjoy your seat inside the movie theater and your couch at home. But if you can set aside your expectations from the book to the reel, and judge the film as it is, then go ahead and read it first.

Overall, it was a good, fun read. You may even want to read it again after reaching the last page. As for me, I intend to buy Book Two. Let’s just say that Riordan ended the Lightning Thief well. Well enough to make you wonder what’s up next.


About Me

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I'm a young professional working in a call center; a licensed nurse who's not practicing the profession, out of choice; gay, and proud to be; sporty with an active lifestyle filled with badminton and running; a reader who easily gets lost in a well-written story; a wannabe-author and wannabe-successful. But more importantly, I'm a writer with a hunger for life.

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