Thursday, October 19, 2006

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore
, the eleventh book by Haruki Murakami, is the surreal journey of a teen-age boy and an old man on parallel but separate paths. Murakami once again takes us down a metaphysical road with characters that are capable of just about anything, and entwines them in a story where the strange is to be expected. Fish fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. An old man, Nakata, carries on conversations with cats. Kafka, our title character is running away from a disturbing, incestuous prophecy given to him by his psychologically abusive father. There is a brutal murder early in the book but not only is the identity of the murderer a mystery, we're not even sure at first who was murdered. Simply put, this book is probably different than just about anything else you've read. It is certainly different than anything I've read by another author.

Weirdness aside, Kafka on the Shore is the story of Kafka, a boy who runs away from his home and his abusive father, all the while reminding himself that he has to be "the toughest fifteen-year-old in the world". He ends up working in a secluded, private library for a gender-confusing young man and a woman that Kafka is both attracted to and suspects of being the mother that took his sister and left him as a child. While Kafka is trying to sort out the tangled strands of his own future and his family history we are told in alternate chapters of the aforementioned Nakata, a simple-minded old man who can talk to cats and is on a journey of his own that may or may not have anything to do with Kafka. Strange occurrences happen around Nakata, fish (and other things) fall from the sky in the middle of a city, a bizarre murder takes place and even a run-in with a ghostly pimp that looks exactly like Colonel Sanders (yes, that Colonel Sanders). There is also a connection involving two Japanese soldiers from the second world war as well as an unexplained occurrence with a class of school children in the woods.

With all of the bizarre things that happen in Kafka on the Shore, there are some questions that are never satisfactorily answered and some readers may have a problem with that, though I never felt like the reader was being cheated or that there were deliberate tweakings of the plot just to be strange or mysterious. It may sound as if the story is a mish-mash of chaotic developments but Murakami handles these in a mostly coherent way. Though his books are translated from Japanese to English, Murakami has a voice all his own that is flowing and poetic. One other feeling I had from Kafka on the Shore is an underlying eroticism. There is little actual sex and even what there is Murakami handles with a deftly light hand, but there is an inescapable sexual current that runs through the book.

This is the second book of Murakami's that I've read and I think I was spoiled a bit by the first one, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I picked that one up on a whim and was very pleasantly surprised. So pleasantly in fact that I immediately looked to see what else I could find by the author. Kafka on the Shore is a lesser book but still a good example of the highly enjoyable, genre-bending style of Haruki Murakami. I recommend Kafka on the Shore but if you want to read a better book first, check out The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Kyle Morris


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