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Culture Corner: Kafka on the Shore

Johnnie Walker set his glass down on the desk and looked straight at Nakata. He chuckled. “Listen – I’m not killing cats just for the fun of it. I’m not so disturbed I find it amusing,” he went on. “I’m not just some dilettante with time on his hands. It takes a lot of time and effort to gather and kill this many cats. I’m killing them to collect their souls.”

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore has many Marmite passages that readers will either love or hate – not least the scene where a live incarnation of whiskey mascot Johnnie Walker explains to the protagonist why he has been killing cats and eating their hearts (it’s to build a flute with which to destroy the universe, obviously). In other scenes, mackerel rain from the sky between discussions on the nature of God. If one gets beyond an initial gut reaction to reject it as pretension, though, what emerges is a thoughtful blend of pop philosophy, postmodern uncertainty and weird, intriguing scenes like that one. Paradoxically, Murakami is often held up in the West as a very ‘other’ author, yet faces criticism in Japan for being un-Japanese, and for a book that ought to be incredibly offputting and inaccessible, it’s very readable. Published in 2002 in Japanese with an English translation in 2005, it won critical acclaim from John Updike and a spot on The New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2005. The light tone of Jay Rubin’s translation helps keep the various odd tableaux moving by quickly. Even without finding any meaning in the plot – and the novel offers nothing willingly – any fans of talking felines will enjoy Kafka on the Shore. The book’s list of characters on Wikipedia has two sections: one entitled ‘Humans’, the other ‘Cats’.

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