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2014 Book Discussions > Kafka on the Shore - Similarities to Other Books (November 2014)

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message 1: by Whitney (last edited Nov 02, 2014 06:38PM) (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
This is for discussing references and links to other novels by Murakami that are found in Kafka on the shore. Read at your own risk as at least minor spoilers are inevitable.

To summarize from some previous threads, Peter pointed out general Murakami elements including magical realism, descriptions of food, western music, and the echos of WW2. (I added cats).

There are similar themes of questionable reality in Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, as well as in Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of World and 1Q84. The idea of one's shadow existing as a separate / separable entity is also present in Hard Boiled Wonderland.

One of the main characters in 1Q84 also had a difficult relationship with his father, similar to Kafka, as well as a mother who had disappeared without explanation.


message 2: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
One similarity I see to Wind-up Bird Chronicle is the idea of people with special talents for finding lost cats.


message 3: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments I associate Murakami with strong female characters, albeit often enigmatic.

Also, with the use of Western advertising symbols.

And many allusions, not always obvious, to Japanese/Chinese/Western history.


message 4: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments And all of those things are in evidence in KotS. Mind you, I don't think any of the Murakami books I've read made Western advertising symbols actual characters...


message 5: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Peter wrote: "And all of those things are in evidence in KotS. Mind you, I don't think any of the Murakami books I've read made Western advertising symbols actual characters..."

I don't believe we have said that so far. But, I'll have to relisten to KotS to be sure about advertising names like Colonel Sanders and Johnny Walker. I know they appeared, I don't recall exactly how they were used. It may not have been as "characters."


message 6: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
I frequently read how Murakami is criticized in Japan for being too Western, but I also know he's wildly popular in Japan. The mention of the criticism is always second hand, usually in articles written by Westerners. I can't help but wonder if the "too Western" claim is something voiced by a few cultural purists and then blown out of proportion by people looking for good copy.

Murakami's use of Western culture seems to me to frequently be little more than window dressing, e.g. references to books, films, music, and commercial pop culture figures such as the aforementioned Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders. (Murakami has mentioned in interviews that he considers these artifacts of Western culture to be universal.)

Two Japanese writers Murakami seems to be influenced by on a deeper level are Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (Murakami wrote the introduction to a collection of Akutagawa's stories), and Kōbō Abe. Akutagawa's stories frequently have people encountering entrances into the spirit world, and "In a grove" is the archetypal story about narrators introducing an ambiguity into 'actual' occurrences that isn't meant to be solved so much as appreciated.

Stylistically, Murakami and Kōbō Abe have a lot in common. Especially that slipstream aspect of Murakami's, where people find themselves in a world that's a little sideways to normality and treat it more as a previously unencountered part of town than as a rift in reality. I do recognize that it's a bit dodgy to make stylistic comparisons to books in translation, as it may be more the translator's style that's coming through instead of the author's.


message 7: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Whitney, I love your description of Murakami's writing as "that slipstream aspect of Murakami's, where people find themselves in a world that's a little sideways to normality and treat it more as a previously unencountered part of town than as a rift in reality."


message 8: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
I think that "slipstream aspect" of Murakami's work is what really draws the readers. Once things don't quite appear normal, you kind of have to go along for the ride and see where he takes you. I'm only up to chapter 12 but I'm surprised there haven't been more music references (as compared to his other books)--so far, I think all I've noticed was a brief mention of Radiohead.

Identity seems to be a fairly common theme throughout his work, too... The loss of, the search for, etc. His male characters often seem kind of passive... sort of afloat in life's confusing sea of waves (too early for me to tell whether that's the case with this book, as well).


message 9: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Marc, I think you are about to get to a discussion of Shubert's Sonata in D.


message 10: by Marc (last edited Nov 06, 2014 08:23AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
Casceil wrote: "Marc, I think you are about to get to a discussion of Shubert's Sonata in D."

It's like you knew what was coming ;p
I tried listening to that sonata on Youtube while at work... Can't say it did much for me, but maybe I'll try again with less distractions involved.

I don't remember as many direct literary references in his other books. Is that my memory failing me again or did others feel the same?

(There's an online translation of Kafka's "In The Penal Colony" story for anyone interested. Plan to finish the book before I try the story, but the way it was mentioned in Chapter 7 made me want to try it since Murakami's Kafka felt it described the world we live in.)


message 11: by Lily (last edited Nov 11, 2014 08:56AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/18/boo...

Has a list of a number of the NYT reviews of his various books with short excerpts from the reviews. As far as I can tell, does not link to the reviews themselves.

Lots of images and quotations here at this fan blog:
http://www.haruki-murakami.com/page/3


message 12: by Edgarf (new)

Edgarf | 44 comments Marc wrote: "I think that "slipstream aspect" of Murakami's work is what really draws the readers. Once things don't quite appear normal, you kind of have to go along for the ride and see where he takes you. I'..."
I hope its not a spoiler to say Beethoven's Archduke Trio plays a role later. With I was happy to see since it is one of my favorite works. I, though, have the Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline Du Pré version.


message 13: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I have been listening to Schubert's Sonata in D. By sheer dumb luck the version I bought is performed by Ashkenazy, one of the versions Oshimo prefers. I wasn't all that impressed the first time I listened to it, but it grows on you, and it does seem to "fit" with the book. There are parts of the music that have lots of chords and feel kind of blocky, and there are parts that seem to flow more like running water, and the way the parts mingle is interesting.


message 14: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
Not a spoiler for me, Edgarf, but I don't think it would give much away to anyone who hasn't reached that point in the book yet. Having trouble making the time to listen to any of these performances/songs with anywhere near the attention they deserve.


message 15: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
When this thread first got started, I kept trying to think of what other book it reminded me of and I couldn't think of the right Murakami title. Then I realized that I was thinking a bit about David Mitchell's number9dream. Was it Lily who mentioned Murakami being a strong influence on Mitchell? At any rate, in one way it did very much remind me of IQ84 in that you essentially have a very traditional happy ending in KoTS wrapped up in lots of supernatural happenings along the way. When I first read IQ84, I thought--wait, this is just a love story where the two lovers are destined to meet up and do. Anybody else feel there was a kind of "normal-tale-with-happy-ending" hiding under this one?


message 16: by Lily (last edited Nov 24, 2014 12:55PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Marc wrote: "...Was it Lily who mentioned Murakami being a strong influence on Mitchell?..."

Marc, I sort of referred to @46 what Violet said @44 (link below) -- saying I don't really know/get Mitchell enough to see the connection. Thx for calling our attention to number9dream. I don't know it at all. By Mitchell, I've read only Cloud Atlas, and that not probably very well. Some books don't engage me, at least when they need to be read by a particular date and I have others on my plate, as was true for CA. Too many things are saying I should go back and reread, but who likes "shoulds". Maybe I'll try something else of his instead. Anyone have a recommendation?

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


message 17: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments The ghost lover appears in both Kafka and 1Q84. 1Q84 is almost like a compilation album of Murakami's greatest hits. It's that novel which called me to question his versatility. It's an emperors new clothes novel in my opinion. Starts off with the usual high energy intrigue of a Murakami novel but then stutters and collapses into parody of a Murakami novel. I'm enjoying Kafka much more but I kind of wish he would set his hand to writing something different now. He's done his genre to death now. Mitchell's first two novels were patently inspired by Murakami but with Cloud Atlas and especially Jacob de Zoet he's shown a lot more versatility in theme, architecture and genre than his former master. Murakami's been a huge influence on lots of novelists - Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Foer spring to mind - but I just can't help feeling he's dried up now. Philip Roth knew when to stop. If Murakami is now simply going to rehash old material perhaps it's time for him to stop too?


message 18: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I've read a fair amount of Murakami, and I've found his books very different from each other, even if he does re-uses some elements frequently. The only Mitchell I've read so far is Cloud Atlas, which, while having an interestingly structure, had rather pedestrian writing, and the science-fictional parts struck me (as a longtime reader of SF) as cliched. Murakamai's writing has never struck me as either pedestrian or cliched.

But you know, this is all really a matter of taste.


message 19: by Lily (last edited Nov 25, 2014 09:35AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Violet wrote: "...Philip Roth knew when to stop. If Murakami is now simply going to rehash old material perhaps it's time for him to stop too? ..."

Not everyone agrees that was true for Roth! ;-)

Being grateful for what writers/artists do give us is something it is sometimes hard to remember. It is Thanksgiving on Thursday, at least here in the U.S.

And, yes, the world does have ways of demanding the best from its best! (And asking it of the rest of us?)


message 20: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2158 comments Mod
I don't think 1Q84 was one of Murakami's better novels, and I also saw a lot of similarities with KoTS. Every writer has good and bad (or less good) books. I'm not sure I'd use one lesser book to suggest a writer needs to switch careers but, as Peter says, to each their own. Maybe you've had enough Murakami in your life.

Re: Cloud Atlas. I loved this book. Since the different sections were deliberate pastiches to different genres, I saw the familiar elements as deliberate rather than clichéd, but I also thought the Orison of Somni section was the weakest. I'm hoping to get one of his more recent books in here as a group read one of these days.


message 21: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments I wish Philip Roth hadn't stopped too! But i guess he thinks he knows best.


message 22: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Would be great to get the Bone Clocks as a group read.


message 23: by Violet (last edited Nov 25, 2014 11:07AM) (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Oh and i agree Somni was the weakest link in Cloud Atlas and his mimicking of genre writing was making fun of cliche rather than cliched. And i'd hardly describe Mitchell's writing as "pedestrian". He's a better sentence writer than Murakami, whose style has always aimed at an almost childlike simplicity - super effective for his subject but hardly highballing as creative writing unless it loses a lot in translation.


message 24: by Edgarf (last edited Nov 25, 2014 12:02PM) (new)

Edgarf | 44 comments Yesterday, I bought a copy of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I don't know when I will get a chance to read it. Currently Middlemarch is on my plate and I hope to complete that novel in time for one of the January picks. I am really looking forward to learning the similarities to at least two of Murakami's texts. Hopefully I can get to that second journey soon.


message 25: by Marc (last edited Nov 25, 2014 06:31PM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
Kind of hard to compare the writing quality/style of Mitchell and Murakami given that I've only read Murakami in translation and don't know enough about Japanese to appreciate what it loses/gains in English (as Violet mentioned). I probably would have rated Cloud Atlas 5 stars but I hated the Orison of Omni part--the dialect just drove me nuts. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoetacob de Zoet was marvelous. If I had to rank the Murakami's I've read so far, I'd go with: 1) Wind-Up Bird, 2) Hard-boiled Wonderland, 3) Kafka on the Shore, 4) After Dark, and 5) IQ84 (which I personally wouldn't recommend to anyone).

Is there a writer who has written 3 or more books that hasn't overlapped him or herself a fair bit in terms of themes/style/etc? I think the same thing goes for almost any art form (film, music, etc.). For this reason, I'm not a big fan of reading works by the same author back-to-back (unless you're really interested in comparing and contrasting them).


message 26: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Same here with regards Wind-Up Bird being best Murakami novel I've read and 1Q84 the worst.


message 27: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Would enjoy some words on why consider Wind-Up Bird "best" among the Marakami novels? (I didn't share the enthusiasm, but I have only read it once and find Murakami does emerge from multiple readings.)


message 28: by Lily (new)

Lily MacKenzie (lilyionamackenzie) Violet wrote: "Same here with regards Wind-Up Bird being best Murakami novel I've read and 1Q84 the worst."

I love much of Murakami's work, but I agree that IQ84 stank. Awful!


message 29: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments In my case, Lily i think it was essentially more because Wind-Up Bird was the first Murakami novel I read than an objective appraisal. I just remember being excited by it, not any longer why exactly. I'm struggling to finish Kafka - IQ84 wasted so much of my time that I'm irritated by him now.


message 30: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments 1Q84 was very promising for the 60-70% of the book, and then it just turned sour. I t seemed that Murakami struggled in the final part and did not know where he was going.


message 31: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 397 comments The novel (1Q84) was written and published in installments in Japan, and it might be the problem. We know how Victorians struggle with the plot consistency, and they wrote realistic fiction.


message 32: by Lily (new)

Lily MacKenzie (lilyionamackenzie) Zulfiya wrote: "1Q84 was very promising for the 60-70% of the book, and then it just turned sour. I t seemed that Murakami struggled in the final part and did not know where he was going."

Yes, I agree. And maybe it was because it was published in installments.


message 33: by Violet (new)

Violet wells | 354 comments Zulfiya wrote: "The novel (1Q84) was written and published in installments in Japan, and it might be the problem.
Really good point. I didn't know that. I've never come across a novel before that started so well and ended up such a bore.



message 34: by Lacewing (new)

Lacewing http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/a-...

Background music for those who groove along with this author. Enjoy!


message 35: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
Lily: Like Violet, it may be that Wind-Up Bird was my first Murakami and impacted me more strongly than subsequent selections by him. I would probably need to go back and read it again to better answer your question, but it seemed to have an almost perfect blend of plot, supernaturalness, and characters for me.

Awesome link, Lacewing!


message 36: by Lily (last edited Dec 12, 2014 08:14PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Marc wrote: "Lily: Like Violet, it may be that Wind-Up Bird was my first Murakami and impacted me more strongly than subsequent selections by him. I would probably need to go back and read it again to better an..."

Thx for your comment, Marc. I do tend to agree that that first Murakami can have a disproportionate impact. I started with Kafka on the Shore, and then read others to try to understand what I had just experienced! (I had the CDs for it, eventually added the paperback.) The others, until 1Q84, I used library copies. I enjoyed relistening to KotS for this read -- with an occasional dip into the pbk.


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