Title: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Fiction, magical realism, speculative fiction
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★★
Summary: Fifteen year old Kafka Tamura, who claims to have a curse resting upon his shoulders (an “oedipal prophecy” no less), runs away from home in search of his mother and his sister, who left home when he was only four years old. He decides to go to Takamatsu city, where he eventually discovers a small private library run by the beautiful but distant middle-aged Miss Saeki and her intelligent and charming young assistant Oshima. Kafka spends his days in this library reading, until his life catches up with him and he finds himself under investigation of a brutal murder he fears he was involved in but has no recollection of. In a parallel storyline, we follow the elderly and endearing character of Mr. Nakata. During World War II, when Nakata was a child, he fell into a coma after a curious incident in a field. When he woke up his mind was completely erased, something which left him mentally challenged. As an adult he lives on a subsidy and earns extra money by finding lost local cats, a task helped greatly by his uncanny ability to communicate with them. Spurred on by the search of one particular cat, Nakata soon finds himself on a bigger journey that is taking him far away from home for the first time in his life. He befriends young truck driver Hoshino, who quickly becomes very attached to the old man and who is eventually willing to assist him in any way that he can.
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”
– Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
Once again Murakami introduces us to an amusingly strange gallery of characters. In addition to the ones already mentioned, we also meet Johnnie Walker the cat killer, who plans to make a flute out of cat souls, the ghost-like pimp Colonel Sanders (yes, Colonel Sanders the KFC-guy), and a couple of ageless forest-dwelling lost soldiers from World War II. Add to this enough named cats to make up an entire gallery of their own, plus incidents such as mackerel falling from the sky and a magical entrance stone, and you have another Murakami-blend consisting of surrealism, magical realism, and creepy suspence.
“Kafka on the Shore” ended up grabbing a spot among my top three Murakami novels (after “1Q84” and “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”). It deals with concepts that eventually, in one way or another, relate to each other, concepts such as time, love, memory, fate, and identity. These are concepts that can hurt you, change you, help you adjust, and help you discover who you are. In this book, these concepts are wrapped in beautiful writing, shockingly bloody events, creepy unreal moments, and a sort of reality that is unclear at its best. At the same time, it’s a novel that is highly plot-involved, and while it ends in typical Murakami style, with an ending that opens up for a hundred unanswered questions, I was actually left with a more conclusive feeling than from many of his other works. Not saying it necessarily was conclusive, it was just the feeling I got.
I find that whenever it’s hard for me to write a review for one of his books, such as now, it’s an indication of how much I enjoyed it, and I’ve felt that way with nearly all of his books. That’s one of the reasons why I love Murakami so much; you can’t really take my word for it. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself.