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Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

TA Margaret Z. ’17 reviews Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.

As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.”

This inside cover summary does not begin to display the metaphysical and surreal nature of the book. Kafka on the Shore is a winding, complex, confusing, philosophical adventure that will keep you turning the pages. However, despite its intriguing and original premise, a few flaws that made it hard for me to put the book on an all-time favorites list.

The only two prominent women in the novel are viewed almost entirely through a sexual lens, not serving much purpose in the plot other than their sexual encounters with the men. In the second half of the novel, another woman — a prostitute — makes an appearance. Her only significance in the story is that she has sex with one of the men. This detail doesn’t change the course of the plot at all, and her character never appears again. The scene is arbitrary and does not add much to the novel except — well, a sex scene.

Also, every time Kafka runs into his love interest, Murakami feels the need to describe each article of clothing that the love interest is wearing. Yes, I get it — she’s wearing the same blue blouse and pearl necklace and skirt from last time. No need to repeat it every single time.

Additionally, there’s a transgender character in the novel, and while I was originally ecstatic to see this, the way Murakami portrays the character confuses me. Oshima, the transgender man in the novel, is described to never have gotten his period and to never to have developed breasts. To me, this setup felt like Murakami was trying to almost make him “less transgender” and make readers think of him as “more masculine” in order to justify his identity. However, I also understand that Kafka on the Shore was originally intended for a Japanese audience, an aspect that likely affected the portrayal of Oshima. Furthermore, Oshima may have been intersex, but if so, the novel did not make that clear.

Lastly, the resolution of Kafka on the Shore felt anticlimactic. Much of Haruki Murakami’s work is open-ended and leaves room for interpretation and conjecture, such as Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage. However, Murakami doesn’t reach a point in this story that gives the reader enough material to actually interpret; instead, he leaves readers grasping at tendrils of smoke. Kafka on the Shore contains too many arbitrary details whose purposes are unclear. While I normally love bizarreness if it plays even a small role in the plot, many central mysteries of the novel that kept me reading — the fish falling from the sky, the ability to talk to cats, the mysterious flute — are never resolved or explained.

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A Review of Lapham’s Quarterly by Kiana B. ’16

A Review of Lapham’s Quarterly by Kiana B. ’16

Museum-goers come in many varieties: there are those who invest in headphones to delve into self-guided tours, there are the ones who hop from exhibit to exhibit with no particular pattern; some like to sit with a painting for thirty minutes, some are content with a brief glance. Lapham’s Quarterly is a lot like a museum. You may be the type to read Lapham’s Quarterly from beginning to end, taking in the wide range of content as curated by the editors. Or, if you’re like me, you get overwhelmed and excited by all the ideas and perspectives packed into this magazine, and tend to flip to a page at random, savoring what it has to offer before venturing into other content.

Lapham’s organizes itself around a particular topic, gathering various pieces of writing and art to amalgamate into a big museum for readers, full of exhibits and secret corridors, gardens with endangered plants, and gift shops with theoretical and coloring books alike. What I’m trying to say is this: Lapham’s Quarterly has a lot to offer. Topics thus far have included Fashion, Spies, Philanthropy, Intoxication, Death, Youth, Ways of Learning, and more. Contributors range from Marx to Amanda Palmer, Machiavelli to Walt Whitman. Looking at the table of contents is an adventure of its own. When I surveyedwhat was in store for the Fashion volume of Lapham’s, I was delighted when I saw John “I pride myself on the fact that my work has no socially redeeming value” Waters and Homer on the same page. Magical and hilarious juxtaposition of contributors are abundant in Lapham’s Quarterly (Quentin Tarantino and Aeschylus! I could go on.).

Lapham’s Quarterly may also be the best shot we have at time travel. All the entries in the magazine are organized by location and date, so Lapham’s is as much of a reading and learning experience as it is a time- traveling experience. Venice in 1596? Sure thing. 1972 Kyoto? Don’t mind if I do! Examining the pieces in Lapham’s Quarterly through the lens of the time and place they were created adds a whole new layer of ideas to consider. As a historical magazine, Lapham’s intentionally leads readers through time and history, helping us understand the changes and continuity our world faces through the lens of specific topics. It makes history interactive by allowing you to make connections, question authors, agree with arguments, and look at some really gorgeous photos and illustrations along the way.

If history class is your happy place, if you ask yourself questions as often as you crave baked goods, or you’re really into cool graphics, go pick up a volume of Lapham’s Quarterly!

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Background Information: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Background Information: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

TA Noel P. pairs a book taking place in 1911 New York with an informative research about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire…

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is set in turn-of-the-century America, and focused on two very different teenagers: Coralie, a “mermaid” in her father’s abusive freak show on Coney Island, whose diminishing audience forces her into darker acts; and Eddie, a Ukrainian immigrant who struggles with relationships with his father, and learning to live in a new and unfamiliar world during one of the most exciting times in history. While this novel is mainly about these two characters and what they come to discover about themselves in their troubled lives, one of the most fascinating aspects about this novel is the setting. Set in the time period right on the brink of WWI, social status and class are being reimagined, immigrant identities are becoming more prevalent, forms of entertainment are evolving, and so many other things come to life. In this time period, France was going through their “Belle Epoque,” and US itself was experiencing its “Gilded Age.” The world was, mostly, at peace.

But that’s in the span of the entire world, and what Hoffman does is show not the warfare of country against country, but the tragedy of life, and the internal warfare that occurs underneath the gold and the glitz and the propaganda. Undoubtedly the biggest tragedy portrayed in this book is the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire–one of the darkest consequences of industrialization in the US and the abuse on its workforce. The fire not only serves to juxtapose the backdrop setting of the novel, but also to act as a sobering catalyst for the characters’ lives.

A photograph of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

For more information on this time period, especially on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, visit Remembering the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire. Put together by Cornell University, this website has background information on the Triangle Factory Fire, as well as primary source interviews, documents, images, and the names and basic information on all victims of the fire. Check it out!

 

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Why I Love The Database Issues and Controversies

Why I Love The Database Issues and Controversies

i&c

 

TA Christine C. wants you to know that this database is the best.

 

 

 

Issues and Controversies saved my life last year. I was preparing for my APS debate on the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” and couldn’t seem to find a sufficient amount of reliable sources for both sides of the argument. How was I going to write my whole debate when I didn’t have enough reliable evidence to bolster my arguments? I would completely embarrass myself during the debate by having to cite my sources with “the website Republicans Hate Obama says” or “according to The Onion.”

I turned to the magical library databases and stumbled upon Issues and Controversies. After I typed in “The Affordable Care Act” on the search bar, the database led me to a vast amount of trustworthy websites and scholarly articles. Even better, Issues and Controversies had articles written from both perspectives and blurbs on every article titled “Supporters Argue” and “Opponents Argue” that gave me a concise and informative summary on the issue as well as ideas for arguments and counterarguments. Thanks to Issues and Controversies, the condition of my debate was saved.

Knowing what issues, domestic and international, are present and having a deep understanding of those issues allow us to become well informed and make stances of our own. The majority of our political stances are affected by our environment and it can often be difficult to clearly understand the other side of the argument when people around us paint the opponents as the “bad guys.” I personally recognize that going to a liberal school and living in one of the most liberal places in the country have shaped my political views. When biases become increasingly evident and ubiquitous, understanding both sides of an issues becomes more important. Issues and Controversies allowed me to look at a multitude of issues from a different perspective and critically think about my own biases.

Whether you need evidence for a school paper or want to learn more about the world around you, Issues and Controversies is a reliable and informative database to use. Think about issues in a new light and learn more about what was just on the news. Who knows? You might just learn something about the world and yourself.

By Christine C. ’17.

Check out Issues and Controversies here on our databases page.

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A Grim Fate for Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Censorship Based on Age Groups

A Grim Fate for Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Censorship Based on Age Groups

Sky, ’19 writes in defense of letting teens and kids choose for themselves what reading material they can handle.

We have all heard by now that the fairy tales we loved and knew growing up, are heavily edited versions of the originals. Even Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm, who published the most famous fairy tales, heavily edited the first edition of their stories. There was a recent survey {Source} that revealed that a lot of parents refuse to read most or some of the Grimm’s fairy tales to their children. We see a trend of this, of parents censoring books for their children, but how do we draw the line between what is acceptable for children to read and what is not acceptable for children to read, and should we be drawing the line at all?

Some people argue that some books should not be read by younger people because the complex themes in the narrative will not be appreciated or picked up on by younger audiences, not because of the content. There are also reading levels in some schools, where children are given a reading level based on a letter from A-Z  and not allowed to read below that letter, on the basis that the books would be too difficult for them to read. Is there a better way to seperate books by age group, and should they really be separated at all? It’s understandable that parents do not want their children to be exposed to older concept too young, but after a certain age is it still beneficial to not allow children or teenagers to not read certain books?

Parents are the biggest pusher of censorship of books and the banning of books in schools and libraries, {Source} but banning books limits people’s freedom to draw their own ideas from books. Literature can be very powerful,  and it is not necessarily a bad thing for children and teenagers to read books that challenge the ways they think about the world and what they know about the world. Do we really need to censor the violence and the gore out of the classics like the Grimm’s fairy tales, or the language out of Huckleberry Finn, because it might make a kid scared or worried? Even if teenagers or kids don’t understand or fully pick up on the themes of the book, shouldn’t they still be allowed to read them?

Reading facilitates new ideas and introduces new concepts, and teenagers and kids should be allowed to read books that appeal to them, regardless of the difficulty of the language or themes. Separating books by age groups and reading level, and censoring classics for younger audiences is not beneficial to anybody. It goes against the point of writing and reading; to be able to express, learn, and think about anything in any context or way. We need to stop separating books, and let kids and teenagers decide for themselves what is too upsetting, scary, or old for them to read.

By Sky Y. ’19

 

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An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student

An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student

 

Our intrepid TA Margaret Z. ’17 interviews Nayanika K., Castilleja senior and the author of Skye’s the Limit and The Accidentals.

 

 

 

 

FAST FACTS

Hometown: Transylvania

Favorite Novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Favorite Song: Ocean by Andreas Moe

 

QUESTIONS

A prominent theme in both of your books is the importance of friendship. What role does friendship play in your own life?

Friends are a crucial part of my everyday life. They are cool as heck, and they always make me laugh or smile. I think it’s important, especially during the high school years, to have a good support system inside and outside of school. You really need people who you can count on during this time of life.

What I value most in my friendships is loyalty. You can never really build deep connections with someone unless you know they’re going to be there for you through everything and make you a priority in their lives. It’s hard to open up to someone if you know you’re just a backup.

 

Your books also focus on social status and popularity in school. What role did popularity play in your life when you were in middle school?

Popularity actually did not play a large role in my middle school life. I went to Castilleja for middle school, and at Castilleja, there aren’t as many distinct social levels as there would be at, for example, a public, co-ed school. I had friend groups throughout my time at Castilleja, but there was a lot of mixing of the friend groups, which is a totally different experience from what I portrayed in my books. Most of my knowledge about popularity and social status from what I’ve seen in pop culture and what my friends outside of school have told me.

 

Why did you write based on pop culture?

At the time, I wanted to write about stuff that a greater majority of the population would find more relatable. The Castilleja experience is not exactly relatable: what I experience in high school on a day-to-day basis is not what most people experience. I wanted my books to be accessible to a larger audience, and I made them more relatable by balancing my own experiences with what the majority of teenagers experience, in terms of high school at least.

 

Do you feel like you’ve missed out?

I feel like I haven’t experienced the “conventional” high school or middle school experience. But if I had the choice now to have gone to a different high school instead, I would not.

 

Do you have a favorite book? Why do you like it, and how does it inspire you?

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, makes me feel intellectually stimulated. It’s such a real, raw story about a world that we don’t always get to see, and that is fraught with stereotypes in our society. I appreciated getting to see it from a different perspective. It’s also an immigrant story with a whole new twist.

 

Why do you write?

So that nice people like Margaret can interview me. Just kidding!

So I can be rich and famous. Just kidding! That makes me sound like a terrible person.

I write so I can connect with and understand people better. There are so many different perspectives and experiences in this world, and writing often allows me to better empathize with people through thinking about how their values have shaped them, or what feelings they may have been feeling in a certain situation.

 

What inspires you?

Cool people inspire me. By cool people, I mean people who want to make a change in the world, and who actually follow through with what they want. People who, despite obstacles, beat the odds and still end up helping people and doing good in the world.

 

Any advice for young writers who want to publish?

Just write. Get everything out, and don’t be upset if it’s not exactly what you want. As you grow as a person, your writing is going to grow, and your ideas are going to change. You’ll go back and find something in your writing that resonates with you on a deeper level.

In terms of the publication process, there are so many resources online. There are so many different options to explore for your specific needs and wants, and you’ll definitely find one that you’re happy with.

 

Nayanika’s books are available through Amazon >HERE< and at the Castilleja Library!

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