kafka on the train


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some people get their best ideas in the shower, but well, since i don’t have a shower and my bucket baths don’t last long enough to have any other complete thought other than “god, i miss showers”, train rides have, in a sense, become my ‘shower’. i tend to get rather philosophical and reflective while riding overnight trains in ukraine. i think it’s inpart the nostalgic romanticism i have for train rides (even though i know it will never be like a scene from white christmas or some like it hot), and the fact that for 12+ hours there really isn’t much to distract you with other than the countryside passing by and the occasional drunk passenger.

on my past train ride (my second to last one in ukraine), in between daydreaming and watching the pastures dotted with the occasional tethered cow pass by, i made quite a bit of progress on the book i’m reading — kafka on the shore by haruki murakami . i have my ex to thank for introducing me to haruki murakami just like he has to thank me for introducing him to soy carmel machiattos. in the very beginning of our michigan to illinois (and later china to ukraine) relationship, we exchanged our favorite books via mail. i sent him kazuo ishiguro never let me go and he sent me murakami’s norwegian wood. at the time i felt some sort of ironic fate in the fact that both of our favorite books were written by westernized japanese authors.

with each page of murakami’s work, i found myself underlining, pondering, and falling in love with his rhetoric even more. murakami’s works quickly became a favorite and eventually my one-sided romance with the marathoning murakami outlasted my own inter-continental romance.

my current read, kafka on the shore, a modern day oedipus rex, is so fantastical and complex that on occasion i have to stop and ask myself “wait, am i tripping balls?”. it’s a wonderful read. when i came across this section i couldn’t help but make some margin notes to myself. i’ve come back and re-read it several times already, each time thinking of a new meaning or application.

i’m at the point in my service where i feel some sort of external pressure to understand everything i’ve gone through here, to have everything figured out, to write one final wrap-up blog post of lessons learned as many other volunteers have. rest assured, there won’t be one final “this is what peace corps has taught me!” post — that would be like trying to convince ukrainians to eat less animal fat. but i think what murakami wrote sums up how i’m feeling as i near the end of this journey better than i ever could:

  “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 isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. 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, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

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.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

i thought about this passage on the train yesterday — thinking about what the storm meant to me, about what it meant to be the storm. i have some answers, some ideas. but like a true english major, i could contemplate this forever. i do think all volunteers could attest to the last paragraph. i know i’m not the same person i was when i walked in, when the storm began. maybe in a few years i’ll have some clearer answers about how this experience has changed me…maybe on my last train ride of philosophical thinking and pondering, i’ll have some clearer answers.

3 thoughts on “kafka on the train

  1. I have some of the best most inspirational ideas – ever – while taking a shower. The problem? I can’t quite figure out a way to remember/hold on to the powerful feeling behind those ideas once perched at my desk and pen in hand. Sigh. Maybe I should take a train ride through the cascades. — I saw the movie Never Let Me Go but haven’t read the book – time to check that out.

    • train ride through the cascades and reading never let me go — both great ideas!! i read the book before the movie came out, there’s so much that the movie didn’t capture (as usual). great movie, but even better book : )

  2. Nice excerpt. LOL, I had similar thoughts while reading Kafka on the Shore. I loved reading the Murakami books. Reminds me of my college days when I would finish studying for my classes (I majored in Biochemistry) I would go to the library and read some Murakami. I haven’t read 1Q84 yet though. I think it’s about time I do. 😀

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