Ian Heidin-Seek's Reviews > Kafka On The Shore

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami
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Aug 01, 14

bookshelves: mura-karmic-wonder-land, nippon, re-read, reviews-5-stars, reviews, read-2014
Read from July 20 to 30, 2014, read count: 2

Is Your Figure Less Than Greek?

Early in "Kafka on the Shore”, the 15 year old narrator, Kafka Tamura, warns us that his story is not a fairy tale. The book's title is also the name of a painting and of a song mentioned in the novel, and it describes the one photo Kafka's father has kept in his drawer. But what Kafka neglects to tell us is that his story is a myth of epic, ancient Greek proportions.

Murakami has concocted a contemporary blend of Oedipus and Orpheus, East and West, Freud and Jung, Hegel and Marx, Tales of Genji and Arabian Nights, Shinto and Buddhism, abstraction and action, alternating narratives and parallel worlds, seriousness and play, not to mention classical, jazz and pop music.

Conceived as a sequel to "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, it quickly took on a life of its own, and now sits somewhere between that work and "1Q84”.

If you had to identify Murakami’s principal concerns as a writer, I would venture two: the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the dynamic encounter between consciousness (the ego) and the subconscious (the id).

There are elements of both in "Kafka” . Thus, it stands as quintessential Murakami.


description

The book I read.


Search for the Other Half

Like Greek theatrical masks that represent tragedy and comedy, life consists of dualities: "Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness.”

As hypothesised by Aristophanes via Plato, each individual is half what it once was (view spoiler). Our shadow is faint or pale. Murakami urges:

"You should start searching for the other half of your shadow.”

Beware of Darkness

Only, it’s easier said than done. We’re all "like some little kid afraid of the silence and the dark.”

We are "seeking and running at the same time.”

As in fairy tales, friends warn Kafka not to venture too far into the woods.

The irony is that the darkness is not so much outside, but inside. It’s in our subconscious. What terrifies us is "the inner darkness of the soul…the correlation between darkness and our subconscious”.

The woods, the forest are just a symbol of darkness, our own darkness.

In Dreams Begin Responsibility

While we’re awake, while we’re conscious, we think we’re rational, we’re in control, we can manage what happens around us.

However, we fear dreams, because we can’t control and manage them. By extension, we’re also skeptical of the imagination, because it is more analogous to dreaming than thinking.

Yet, we need our imagination almost as much as our logic. Murakami quotes Yeats:

"In dreams begin responsibility.”

It’s in this quandary that Kafka finds himself. It’s problematical enough for an adult, let alone a 15 year old who has lost contact with his mother and older sister at the age of four, and has now run away from his father:

"You're afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you're awake you can suppress imagination. But you can't suppress dreams.”

For the Time Being

As would befit a Greek tragedy, Kafka’s father, a renowned sculptor, has prophesied:

"Some day you will murder your father and be with your mother…and your sister.”

This is the Oedipus myth, at once a curse and a challenge for Kafka:

"You're standing right up to the real world and confronting it head-on.”

We can only stand by and watch. What is happening? Does it really happen? Does it only happen in the labyrinth of Kafka’s imagination? Is the boy called Crow Kafka’s friend or his soul? (view spoiler) Is the old man Nakata a real person or his alter ego?

If Kafka can only prevail, he will become an adult. If nothing bad happens to him, he’ll emerge part of a brand new world.

It’s not enough for Kafka to spend the time being. He must act.

Reason to Act

Of course, there is a cast of surreal cats, crows and characters who contribute to the colour and dynamic of the novel.

One of my favourites is a Hegel-quoting whore (a philosophy student who might both feature in and read the novels of Bill Vollmann!), who counsels:

"What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts."

Although the protagonists of Murakami's novels are youthful, if not always adolescent, they are rarely in a state of stasis or arrested development. They're always endeavouring to come to terms with the past and embrace the future:

"The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future."

We observe them when their lives are most challenging and dynamic, in short, when they're trying to find and define themselves:

"Every object's in flux. The earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil - they're all fluid and in transition. They don't stay in one form or in one place for ever."


description

My photo of the artwork on a power box I pass every day on my walk.


If I Run Away, Will My Imagination Run Away With Me, Too?

Murakami’s ideas about imagination, dreams and responsibility are fleshed out in a scene that adverts to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann.

The character Johnnie Walker (view spoiler) kills cats, so that he can turn them into flutes. He challenges Nakata (view spoiler) to kill him to save the cats. Nakata now has a moral dilemma as to whether to kill a person to save the lives of others (view spoiler).

Eichmann was the builder rather than the architect behind the design of the Holocaust. He was an officious conformist who lived and worked routinely without imagination. Hannah Arendt would describe him and his capacity for evil in terms of its banality. Others would call him a “Schreibtischmörder” or “desk murderer”.

In Murakami’s eyes, responsibility is part morality, but it also reflects an empathy with others, a transcendence of the self. Eichmann was too selfish and too conformist to empathise with the Jews he was trying to exterminate.

A Catastrophe is Averted by Sheer Imagination

After an accident in World War II, Nakata realised that he could talk to cats. Ultimately, he empathised with them enough to kill Johnnie Walker.

In Shinto, cats might be important in their own right. However, Murakami frequently uses cats in his fiction. Perhaps they represent other people in society, people we mightn't normally associate with or talk to, (view spoiler) but who watch over us and might perhaps be wiser than us, if only we would give them credit?

Murakami also criticised two women bureaucrats who visited the library for their officious presumption and lack of imagination, albeit in a good cause.

For Murakami, the imagination is vital to completing the self, bonding society and oiling the mechanisms by which it works, but it is also an arena within which the psychodrama of everyday life plays out and resolves.

Inside the Storm

So what can I tell you about Kafka’s fate? Only what Murakami tells us on page 3:

"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm...is you. Something inside of you.

"So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in...There's no sun..., no moon, no direction, no sense of time…[in] that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm…

"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.”


Unless you’re a total Murakami sceptic, when you close this book for the last time, you too won’t be the same person who walked in.


description

http://www.deviantart.com/fanart/?vie...


VERSE:

Kafka in the Rye (Or Catcher on the Shore)

Kafka sees a ghost,
One he’ll soon love most,
Somehow he has learned
She has just returned
Home from sailing by
Seven seas of Rhye.
If only Kafka
Could one day catch her,
Dressed, in the rye or,
What he’d like much more,
How his heart would soar,
Catch her on the shore,
Idly walking by,
Naked to the eye.

Swept Away
[In the Words of Murakami]


I am swept away,
Whether I like it or not,
To that place and time.

Where There Are Dreams
[In the Words of Murakami]


The earth moves slowly.
Beyond details of the real,
We live our dreams.

Metaphysician, Heal Thyself
[In the Words of Murakami]


You can heal yourself.
The past is a shattered plate
That can't be repaired.

The Burning of Miss Saeki's Manuscript
[In the Words of Murakami]


Shape and form have gone.
The amount of nothingness
Has just been increased.

Look at the Painting, Listen to the Wind
[In the Words of Murakami]


You did the right thing.
You're part of a brand new world.
Nothing bad happened to you.


description


SOUNDTRACK:

Strummer - "Kafka on the Shore"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7iM2z...

Prince - "Little Red Corvette"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDduq...

Prince - "Sexy Motherfucker"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d2Vb...

R.E.M. - "I Don't Sleep, I Dream"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WReb...

Cream - "Crossroads"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-6OW...

Cream - "Crossroads" [Live]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OLK_...

Cream - "Crossroads" [Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2005]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX6J5...

The Beatles - "Hello Goodbye"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkH3P...

Otis Redding - Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCmUh...

Duke Ellington - "The Star-Crossed Lovers"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg4MP...

Johnny Hodges on Alto Sax

John Coltrane - "My Favorite Things"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWG2d...

Stan Getz - "Getz/Gilberto"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KpIV...

Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II - "Edelweiss"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYSw0...

Frank Churchill & Larry Moery - "Heigh-Ho"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzjXR...

Puccini - "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from "La Boheme" [Marija Vidovic]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDc0v...

Mozart - "Serenade in D major, K. 320 "Posthorn" [Mackerras]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS5YC...

Haydn - Cello Concerto in C Major [Han-na Chang]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8uCT...

Franz Schubert - "Piano Sonata in D major"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh6ax...

Beethoven - "Piano Trio No.7 in B Flat Major, Op.97" ["Archduke Trio"]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWPdl...

Kashfi Fahim - "Life in Technicolor"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go_Z1...

A short film that features the sandstorm quote.
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Reading Progress

07/20/2014 marked as: currently-reading
07/29/2014 page 294
57.0% "Spot the philosopher I:

A person is not merely conscious of self and object as separate entities, but through the projection of the self via the mediation of the object is volitionally able to gain a deeper understanding of the self. All of which constitutes self-consciousness."
07/29/2014 page 294
57.0% "Spot the philosopher II:

The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory."
07/29/2014 page 296
57.0% "Spot the philosopher III:

A revelation leaps over the borders of the everyday. A life without revelation is no life at all. What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts"
07/30/2014 marked as: read
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-47 of 47) (47 new)

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Rags waiting for tge review and book discussion


Paul Secor I look forward to a review from you - if you choose to write one.
Kafka on the Shore is my favorite H. Murakami book - of the ones I've read - and the one I recommend to newcomers to his fiction.


message 3: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Sorry I missed the above posts. I'll definitely write a review, hopefully next weekend.


message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek I haven't read it too closely yet, but here is David Mitchell's review:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005...


message 5: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek "I live in Tokyo, a kind of civilized world — like New York or Los Angeles or London or Paris. If you want to find a magical situation, magical things, you have to go deep inside yourself. So that is what I do. People say it’s magic realism — but in the depths of my soul, it’s just realism. Not magical. While I’m writing, it’s very natural, very logical, very realistic and reasonable."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/mag...


Paul Secor Thanks for posting the article, Ian. I vaguely remember reading it when it was published, but I'd forgotten most of it.


Stephen P Ian thanks for The Star-Crossed Lovers. Hodges may be the most underrated alto sax players ever. He can sure bend the notes while making them sound so pretty.

Can't wait to see your review on this book. I thought it was one of his best but his writing style is not for everyone.


message 8: by Ian (last edited Jul 28, 2014 09:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Thanks, Stephen. If he was good enough for Duke Ellington, he is good enough for me! 200 pages to go. I'll write a review, hopefully on the weekend.


Momina Masood Whoa! Absolutely stunning!


message 10: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Ian, your mention of Vollmann, I am wondering what that little extra Murakami has that Vollmann doesn't? I have a feeling your answer is included above, but if you could spell it out for me it I'd appreciate it..


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Stephen wrote: "Ian, your mention of Vollmann, I am wondering what that little extra Murakami has that Vollmann doesn't? I have a feeling your answer is included above, but if you could spell it out for me it I'd appreciate it..."

Tough question! It's not so much a superiority or a lack, as a difference. Murakami is a creme caramel and Vollmann is a creme brulee. Sometimes the latter goes a bit too heavy on the blowtorch, but equally sometimes the former is a little heavy handed with the caramel.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Momina wrote: "Whoa! Absolutely stunning!"

Thanks, Momina. This is such a hard novel to discuss in any more detail without spoilers.


message 13: by Brian (new)

Brian I love how you love Murakami. You make me want to read this right now.


message 14: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Brian wrote: "I love how you love Murakami. You make me want to read this right now."

Thanks, Brian. Coincidentally, I was just reading how much he enjoyed Vonnegut and Brautigan when he lived in the US.


message 15: by kaśyap (new)

kaśyap This sounds great. I've started reading norwegian wood and wasn't very impressed. Perhaps i should have started Murakami with this one.


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek kaśyap wrote: "This sounds great. I've started reading norwegian wood and wasn't very impressed. Perhaps i should have started Murakami with this one."

I would probably recommend Norwegian Wood over Kafka On The Shore as a first Murakami. See how you progress.


Elham Just Brilliant! I enjoyed reading every single sentence of your review of one of my beloved books!


message 18: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Elham wrote: "Just Brilliant! I enjoyed reading every single sentence of your review of one of my beloved books!"

You're so kind, Elham. I loved your review, and so wanted to use the image of the painting. I ended up taking a photo at home instead!


Elham Ian wrote: "Elham wrote: "Just Brilliant! I enjoyed reading every single sentence of your review of one of my beloved books!"

You're so kind, Elham. I loved your review, and so wanted to use the image of the ..."


I love that photo with that head on top of the book that probably looking at the shining eyes of the cat!


message 20: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek It's actually a four-faced Buddha that I bought in Hong Kong!


Elham Now that I look carefully I see other two faces (right and left) too. It's so beautiful!


message 22: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek It sits above my keyboard and laughs at my jokes!


Garima Brilliant review, beautiful images and some ingenious analysis. I want to reread this book more than ever now. But first, I must read Hard-boiled soon.

Is the old man Nakata a real person or his alter ago?

I have to think about this more but he's surely the most memorable character for me in the book.


message 24: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Thanks, Garima. Hard-Boiled was my first Murakami, and I would love to re-read it soon.

I'm reading some Murakami and Mitchell novels now, in preparation for their new releases over the next couple of months.

There were so many interesting characters in the novel, but I ended up writing about it thematically, so I could avoid spoilers.

However, one day, I'd love to explore issues like who really exists, who is part of Kafka's imagination, who is a double or a stand-in, what contact have they had with each other in the past, etc.


message 25: by Ian (last edited Jul 31, 2014 02:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek For anybody who's interested in artwork surrounding Kafka on the Shore, the following site has assembled 17 pages of images, many just by readers taking interesting photos of themselves and/or their book and/or their cat:

http://www.haruki-murakami.com/tagged...

P.S. Hoshino seems to be a popular subject.


message 26: by Garima (last edited Jul 31, 2014 08:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars


Michael I greatly appreciate your insights on the mythic elements, which I was too dense to catch in my superficial reading. You outdid yourself on poetic channeling and in a veritable cornucopeia of personal musical links. Your cup runneth over, and it is so fine to gather what you may spill.


message 28: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Outstandingly creative review.


message 29: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I am going to be sure to read this after I've read the book. From what I have read, it seems like a fantastic review.


Maria Amazing review Ian! I also loved "Kafka on the Shore".


message 31: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Maria wrote: "Amazing review Ian! I also loved "Kafka on the Shore"."

Thanks, Maria. I loved your review as well, and recommend it to others who come here first!

Something that I think you briefly touched on was the killing of Johnnie Walker and Murakami's comments about Adolf Eichmann.

These issues didn't fit into my review as it emerged, but I originally wanted to think and write something about them.

Eichmann was a conformist who lived and worked routinely without imagination. Hannah Arendt would describe him as banal. Murakami used Yeats' line "In dreams begin responsibility" in relation to Eichmann and the challenge by Johnnie Walker to Nakata to kill him (so he could stop killing cats, out of which JW made flutes). Responsibility is part morality, but it also reflects an empathy with others, a transcendence of the self. Eichmann was too selfish and too conformist to empathise with the Jews he was trying to kill. Nakata empathised with the cats enough to kill Johnnie Walker, rather than let him continue to kill cats. It would be interesting to discuss the symbolism of cats. They are more than just cats. Do they represent other people in society. People we mightn't normally talk to, but who watch us and might perhaps be wiser than us, if only we would give them credit?

Murakami also criticised the two women bureaucrats who visited the library for their presumption and lack of imagination.

For Murakami, the imagination is vital to completing the self, but it is also an arena within which the drama of life plays out and resolves.

Hence, my question whether the whole novel might occur in Kafka's imagination.

Any thoughts?


message 32: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Sue wrote: "I am going to be sure to read this after I've read the book. From what I have read, it seems like a fantastic review."

Thanks, Sue. I look forward to your impressions of the book. Don't forget there's a new Murakami coming out in a couple of weeks.


message 33: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Ted wrote: "Outstandingly creative review."

Thanks, Ted. Unfortunately, I can only look at it and think about what it lacks!


message 34: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Michael wrote: "it is so fine to gather what you may spill."

Thanks, Michael. When it comes to victuals, I prefer to share than spill!


message 35: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Ian wrote: "Ted wrote: "Outstandingly creative review."

Thanks, Ted. Unfortunately, I can only look at it and think about what it lacks!"


Artists are never satisfied with their work.


message 36: by Ian (last edited Jul 31, 2014 05:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek I've added the Eichmann discussion into the body of my review. I'm a bit more satisfied now! I took the cat photo on my walk this morning. How fortuitous!


message 37: by Maria (last edited Jul 31, 2014 07:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Maria Ian wrote: "Maria wrote: "Amazing review Ian! I also loved "Kafka on the Shore"."

Thanks, Maria. I loved your review as well, and recommend it to others who come here first!

Something that I think you briefl..."


Ian wrote: "Maria wrote: "Amazing review Ian! I also loved "Kafka on the Shore"."

Thanks, Maria. I loved your review as well, and recommend it to others who come here first!

Something that I think you briefl..."


Thanks Ian. Just like you said in your closing line, in which I completely agree with you: "Unless you’re a total Murakami sceptic, when you close this book for the last time, you too won’t be the same person who walked in." Murakami offers a new insight, a transcendental perspective. Is it metaphorical? Metaphysical? Philosophical? Just like the stories of Kafka which are filled with symbolisms which you think you understood and then you keep thinking if perhaps it has a different meaning from your first interpretation. It's like an altered prion changing your brain structure and functioning leading quickly to dementia! Ok, that was too much but Murakami's words and concepts remain in your thoughts for a while like that cat killing chapter.

For me, that part was one of the most impressive scences and even a magical one. I can still go over it in detail in my head. Like you, when I read, I'm constantly finding a symbolism or a meaning. Definitely, we are not talking about cats exclusively, it goes beyond that and that's where I tried to find a more philosophical meaning but not as deep as you wonderfully did in your review. Is responsibility part of morality? I think so, yes. Taking action or remaining passive about a specific situation speaks about integrity, empathy and your human condition towards others who are in a disadvantage. About being loyal to your ideology and your way of thinking. Nakata assumes a responsability in killing Walker. Otherwise we would take part by remaining passive. Unlike Eichman, he feels morally superior lacking empathy or compassion or worse like having a mission to exterminate Jews. I do believe cats represent any who presents a disadvantage to the rest, those who lack voice, or are understood perhaps. But these are just some thoughts Im rambling on.

What did you think of Oshima? That is another character I enjoyed. I like the part when we is speeding and talking about his love for Schubert.... How he/she takes herself to the extreme and talks about death.

It is interesting how you mention imagination is part of the self. I think it's essential. :)

This are just some thoughts that come to my mind for now.... Anyways it is a book I'm definitely coming back and look for more details to think about. Have you read 1Q84?


message 38: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Thanks, Maria. I have read 1Q84. My review is split between the review space and a much more detailed review in My Writings:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...

I read and reviewed it as soon as it came out, something I hope to do with the new novel in a couple of weeks time.

I love Oshima and could probably write a whole essay dedicated just to him. For the moment, I've just stuck a little spoiler in the above review that hints at one of the issues concerning him.

I also enjoyed Oshima's brother, the surfie!


message 39: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Garima wrote: "Have you read this? http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/bo..."

I'm very tempted to read it, but I might wait until the book arrives!


message 40: by Steve (new)

Steve This is so quintessentially Ianesque. You've given us a lot to consider, as is your custom. I spent some time thinking about your comment regarding the correlation between darkness and the subconscious, and can see how Murakami would have plenty to offer along those lines. I also liked picturing a prostitute quoting Hegel -- a heart of gold and a soul of dialectical materialism, perhaps.

I figure this ought to be my next Murakami, and for that matter, my next Kafka. Good stuff, Ian.


switterbug (Betsey) What an absolutely gorgeous review, Ian!!!! I loved this book, and never could have articulated a review as you have. And where did you get that first picture (of the book cover and shadows)? A masterpiece of a review!


message 42: by Ian (last edited Aug 02, 2014 01:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Steve wrote: "This is so quintessentially Ianesque. You've given us a lot to consider, as is your custom. I spent some time thinking about your comment regarding the correlation between darkness and the subcon..."

Good to hear from you, Steve. I think she might have been the heart and soul of dialectical materialism.


message 43: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek switterbug (Betsey) wrote: "What an absolutely gorgeous review, Ian!!!! ...And where did you get that first picture (of the book cover and shadows)?."

Thanks so much, Betsey. I took the first photo!


switterbug (Betsey) You know, I thought that could have been you that took the photo. Sweet! Perfect. This all makes me want to read the book again.


message 45: by Rags (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rags Great review as usual Ian. Absolutely smashing :) . There are many things in this book which I didn't understand and would have to re read in future


message 46: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I've only just popped my Murakami cherry, but this fascinating review makes a good case for this being my next book of his.


message 47: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Heidin-Seek Thanks, Rags/Cecily. There's a new Murakami being published tomorrow. I'm excited by the allusions to both Goethe and Liszt. Apparently it's more in the style of Norwegian Wood. A retrospective by a 36 year old protagonist.


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