kafka on the shore

kafka ephemera

I go into the high-ceilinged stacks and wander among the shelves, searching for a book that looks interesting. Magnificent thick beams run across the ceiling of the room, and gentle early-summer sunlight is shining through the open window, the chatter of birds in the garden filtering in. The books in the shelves in front of me, sure enough, are just like Oshima said, mainly books of Japanese poetry. Tanka and haiku, essays on poetry, biographies of various poets. There are also a lot of books on local history. A shelf farther back contains general humanities—collections of Japanese literature, world literature, and individual writers, classics, philosophy, drama, art history, sociology, history, biography, geography…. When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages—a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.

Finally I decide on a multivolume set, with beautiful covers, of the Burton translation of The Arabian Nights, pick out one volume, and take it back to the reading room. I’ve been meaning to read this book. Since the library has just opened for the day, there’s no one else there and I have the elegant reading room all to myself. It’s exactly like in the photo in the magazine—roomy and comfortable, with a high ceiling. Every once in a while a gentle breeze blows in through the open window, the white curtain rustling softly in air that has a hint of the sea. And I love the comfortable sofa. An old upright piano stands in a corner, and the whole place makes me feel like I’m in some friend’s home.

As I relax on the sofa and gaze around the room a thought hits me: This is exactly the place I’ve been looking for forever. A little hideaway in some sinkhole somewhere. I’d always thought of it as a secret, imaginary place, and can barely believe that it actually exists. I close my eyes and take a breath, and like a gentle cloud the wonder of it all settles over me. I slowly stroke the creamish cover of the sofa, then stand up and walk over to the piano and lift the cover, laying all ten fingers down on the slightly yellowed keys. I shut the cover and walk across the faded grape-patterned carpet to the window and test the antique handle that opens and closes it. I switch the floor lamp on and off, then check out all the paintings hanging on the walls. Finally I plop back down on the sofa and pick up reading where I left off, focusing on The Arabian Nights for a while.

Haruki Murakami

The Crow stops time in
the woods, and she gazes—at
Kafka on the shore.


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