A Writer’s Book review of Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’.

I just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I was a little disappointed.
One of my favourite books is ‘1Q84’ by Murakami. It was the first of his books that I read and I think it is wonderful. Why have I had this experience before?
When I first read George Eliot’s ‘Middle March’ I was enthralled and astounded. This was real genius. How had I never read her before? But then I read ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and something negative simmered up.
So too with Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’. Outstanding. Then a letdown with ‘Sutree’.
And I see a pattern that may just be my values as a person and a writer. All three second read, weaker books, had stories that drifted, plots with fatalistic overtones, and characters who were acted upon rather than showing agency.
Young Kafka runs away at the beginning of the book, which is a gutsy thing to do. But it is like he jumps into the river and then just goes wherever the river takes him. Sleuthing out what he wants takes too long, and he never actively goes after it. Some magical forces conspire to bring him to the right places at the right time. Coincidences pile on coincidences, to the point where I had to do a quick lookup of “deus ex machina”, (Latin for: “god from the machine”). Was the fix in?
The writing is stellar. Descriptions, scenes, vistas and places are vivid. But it just goes on too long. It tempted me to jump sections to get the story moving along faster. I didn’t but they could have been edited out. Some physical descriptions, especially of women, felt odd at best. The iterations of describing musical passages felt a little self indulgent, even condescending. Murakami wants you to know he is smarter than you, which is never a good look for a writer.
But my biggest knock on the book was the distance I felt from the characters. Especially as the sections from Kafka were in First person, it was odd that a gap between what he felt, wanted and experienced to the reader develops. He is holding back and so we watch rather than experience the story.
What do these people want? What do they feel? Not what do they think, we get a bit too much of that. What do they feel? Empty is my answer. They lack heart, passion, love, or even hate. Hollow men without agency. Sad.
I didn’t get that in ‘1Q84’, and I didn’t expect it here. It may be harder to read a third book.

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Review of ‘The 1619 Project’ by Nikole Hannah-Jones

I want to do a review of ‘The 1619 Project’ but need to be careful. The Woke Folk jump on anything less than fawning praise of their work.
This book was a tough read. I put it down and then picked it up again three or four times over about three weeks. The material is brutal. The history of slavery in the US is long and ugly, and exposing that horror takes a toll on a reader. I wonder how many people start reading this book, with good intentions, and then just put it down in sheer exhaustion?
It is a history everyone should know. But the nature of the book, a series of individual essays by separate authors, while giving a pleasant change of voices throughout, allows for a lot of repetition. The Tulsa Race Massacre is mentioned a dozen times by different writers. It slowed down the pace, with this reader thinking I already read this.
The book is controversial for a few reasons, but controversy sells books, so that can’t be a fault. That it turns down the light on Reagan’s ‘Shining City on the hill’ is probably what some dislike the most. But I like truth over myth, so this book fills that requirement.
The final chapter on restitution had me shaking my head. In some ways, it mirrored Canada’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation Report’ on Canada’s treatment of indigenous people. Suggestions that will probably never be considered by the vast majority of voters, but also a missed opportunity. All of the suggestions are aimed at others. The white people, the municipalities, the States or Provinces, the Federal government. The churches, the financial institutions, the law. If instead it included a call to action by Black or Indigenous people, it might have some real world effects. Hannah-Jones laments that for much of history Black people have been not actors but acted upon. A call to action would have been well placed.
I have a friend who says some people look out the window for solutions, and some people look in the mirror. These works need to look in both places.

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March 9, 2022

Review of ‘The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
ISBN 9780593230589