On a recent trip to Tokyo, I opened a drawer in my Airbnb to discover a copy of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. At the time, I had been on a bit of a Murakami streak, and I had decided just a few days before that the book I wanted to read next was Kafka on the Shore. It seemed like a small twist of fate — a coincidence that wouldn't seem out of place in a Murakami novel. I picked up the copy, and I dove right in.
Kafka on the Shore follows two main characters: Kafka, a 15-year-old who has run away from his home in Tokyo to live in a small-town library, and Nakata, an old man with brain damage who has the ability to talk to cats. As they each embark on their own quests — Kafka is searching for independence, and Nakata is searching for a missing cat — they become inextricably entangled in a mystical drama that is bigger than themselves, and yet extremely personal.
The rented apartment where I was staying was in Nakano, a ward of Tokyo which, I discovered a few pages in, is an important location in Kafka on the Shore. I read along as Nakata wandered the narrow, sprawling streets of Nakano, then I would put the book in my bag to venture out onto those same streets. Throughout my trip, I would pull out the book and lose myself in its ethereal pages for a few moments. Kafka on the Shore became a key part of my time in Tokyo.
If you've ever read anything by Murakami, you know there's a potent, dreamlike energy about them. As you read, the water rises all the way above your head, and rather than come up for air, you decide, instead, to just grow gills.
So there I was, under the proverbial water. You know that feeling when you're about 40 pages from the end of a Really Good Book, and it feels like a matter of life and death that you do not put that book down? That was how I felt. I couldn't do anything until I finished this book.
And that's when I reached page 481.
I saw the writing first, scrawled in a black, ballpoint pen: "Sorry it was important." Huh? Why did someone write in this book? And then I realized the real horror: Someone had ripped out pages 481 and 482.
Enraged, I moved onto the next page. Maybe I could parse what had happened by taking a close look at what happened right after. "She's right, I do know the answer..." read the next paragraph. I felt my heart break. There had been something major on that missing page. I read on, but discovered only falling action, the result of a climax that I had not been able to read.
Murakami's conclusions are rarely straightforward. It was entirely probable that the whole book had been leading up to a single sentence that had been on that missing page, and that sentence would be the only explanation given. I immersed myself into this novel for 480 pages. I needed to know what that page contained.
The missing page haunted me for weeks. What had happened on page 481?What could have been so important? But, since I was traveling, I didn't have any opportunity to find another copy of the book.
I obsessed over the person who had caused my emotional turmoil. Who was this mysterious page-ripper, anyway? Surely they had not ripped it out purely of malice for the next reader. Or had they?
In a way, we had a strange bond. We had slept in the same bed, used the same shower, read the same book. Perhaps, weeks or days or months previously, they had also been sitting in this exact spot after a long day of exploring Tokyo, entranced by Murakami's writing. What had this page meant to them? Had it provided some sort of epiphany?
There was also the possibility that the page had been ripped out for no reason at all. Perhaps the other reader had just needed a spare sheet of paper to write on. The idea of that made me unendingly sad — a book ruined for convenience. But also, if this were the explanation, it came along with more questions. Why that page? It couldn't be just a coincidence, could it? Where had it ended up?
There was another fear too: That the page hadn't contained anything important at all. That, like many of Murakami's books, the reader was left to decide for themselves what it all meant. Perhaps my imagined ideas of what the page contained were far greater than what was actually there.
But regardless of what was actually written on page 481, Kafka on the Shore had now become all about that page for me, and what it did or did not contain. In a way, it speaks to how reading works. As readers, we hunger for every little piece of a story to fall into place. We'll read into all hours of the night until we know everything. To have one of those pieces missing feels like being robbed.
After arriving home, I was finally able to hunt down a copy of Kafka on the Shore and read the missing page. At this point, it hardly mattered what the page meant in context of the story. Just knowing what happened made me breathe a sigh of relief.
The magic of used books is that the book you're reading has its own story, its own life beyond the words on the page. Had I read a new copy of Kafka on the Shore, I would have probably closed the book, thought about it for a few days, and then moved on. But as it was, I had been given my own mystery to solve. A souvenir for my mind.