In Which We Begin

“Rain falling at the edge of the world.” The last page of Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. Reminds me of Iceland.

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Gulfoss. Iceland. August 2014.

It also reminds me of barriers – limitations, self-imposed or otherwise, that come in soft colors around a darkened corner… when you least expect it or most hoped for something else. “Rain falling at the edge of the world” leaves a gentle imprint of sadness, an echo of the roar of the waterfall — the sweat of the mist — the perpetual chill of the fog — that pulls at your center, begging to unravel what you’ve bundled together.

Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home. He wants and needs to become the strongest 15-year-old in the world — to survive what lies beyond. His story dovetails with Nakata’s own mysterious journey, blending harmoniously into a pleasantly forward-moving mystery. It’s gruesome and bizarre — and perhaps includes the most uncomfortable passage I’ve ever read in a novel. But, at the same time, it’s quite neat and tidy. I assume Murakami was going for this juxtaposition… between the safe and almost laughably guessable mystery — and the occasional sideline of violent gore and explicit sexual detail. The details of the mystery themselves aren’t exactly guessable but the rhythm is familiar, and you find yourself ahead of the beat almost without meaning to rush. I got the sense he knew the end before he began the book. And I think I would have liked it if he didn’t. His metaphors parallel the reality of the story to the point of politely begging the question… everything adds up and there aren’t any unnecessarily references. So it’s easy to spot the meaning because everything MEANS something.

“There’s another world that parallels our own, and to a certain degree you’re able to step into that other world and come back safely. As long as you’re careful. But go past a certain point and you’ll lose the path out. It’s a labyrinth. Do you know where the idea of a labyrinth first came from? … It was the ancient Mesopotamians. They pulled out animal intestines – sometimes human intestines, I expect – and used the shape to predict the future. They admired the complex shape of intestines. So the prototype of labyrinths is, in a word, guts. Which means that the principle for the labyrinth is inside you. And that correlates to the labyrinth outside. … Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside.” (352)

It’s a lovely concept and one of the many metaphors Murakami eloquently introduces in the novel… only to circle back to it inside the story itself as if stumbling upon the reference accidentally. “Oh! I didn’t know you were in this labyrinth! Fancy meeting you here. I JUST read about labyrinths 20 pages ago. What a coincidence.” (not a quote from the book)

Still, I loved the story. I drank up the mystery and the incredibly vivid characters. I fell in love with Nakata and his earnest desire to find his purpose and the other half of his shadow. I shuddered with incredulous delight over the entire concept of Johnnie Walker — from beginning to end one of the most bizarre characters and situational concepts I’ve ever encountered! And Oshima was darling — a beautiful, androgynous vehicle for keeping the story smooth. So very Japanese.

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The Golden Circle. Iceland. August 2014.

So here we are, on the edge of the world. It’s raining. I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’ve been preparing for this. In fact, I’m the toughest 15-year-old in the world. So let’s begin.

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