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Kafka on the Shore Paperback – January 3, 2006
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The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen--it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore--the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply.
Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be "the world¹s toughest fifteen-year-old." He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days--continuing his impressive self-education--and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters.
To say that the fantastic elements of Kafka On The Shore are complicated and never fully resolved is not to suggest that the novel fails. Although it may not live up to Murakami's masterful The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nakata and Kafka's fates keep the reader enthralled to the final pages, and few will complain about the loose threads at the end. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Previous books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood have established Murakami as a true original, a fearless writer possessed of a wildly uninhibited imagination and a legion of fiercely devoted fans. In this latest addition to the author's incomparable oeuvre, 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from home, both to escape his father's oedipal prophecy and to find his long-lost mother and sister. As Kafka flees, so too does Nakata, an elderly simpleton whose quiet life has been upset by a gruesome murder. (A wonderfully endearing character, Nakata has never recovered from the effects of a mysterious World War II incident that left him unable to read or comprehend much, but did give him the power to speak with cats.) What follows is a kind of double odyssey, as Kafka and Nakata are drawn inexorably along their separate but somehow linked paths, groping to understand the roles fate has in store for them. Murakami likes to blur the boundary between the real and the surreal—we are treated to such oddities as fish raining from the sky; a forest-dwelling pair of Imperial Army soldiers who haven't aged since WWII; and a hilarious cameo by fried chicken king Colonel Sanders—but he also writes touchingly about love, loneliness and friendship. Occasionally, the writing drifts too far into metaphysical musings—mind-bending talk of parallel worlds, events occurring outside of time—and things swirl a bit at the end as the author tries, perhaps too hard, to make sense of things. But by this point, his readers, like his characters, will go just about anywhere Murakami wants them to, whether they "get" it or not.
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The young teen barely remembers his mother and has no idea why she left with his sister. As the father's rage grows, he shouts out an Oedipal curse on his son, which convinces the boy to step up his plans to get out. He is encouraged by an inner voice, Crow, who is certain he has the strength to succeed. Knowing that his father will have him tracked as an underage runaway, he gives himself a new first name, Kafka. As a reader he knows the significance: a metaphor for deep feelings and disarray.
Without an idea of where to go, but hoping he will recognize a way, Kafka's journey takes him into the depths of good and evil, the supernatural and the living dead. Is he destined to follow the ancient curse? This book is a masterpiece of storytelling.
"Kafka on the Shore" is a mesmerizing story and I never felt a moment of boredom reading it. I devoured this book over the course of maybe 3-4 days. Everyone I recommend this book to has loved it, including people who typically don't read fiction. This book was my introduction to Murakami, and it does cover a lot of the subjects/themes he uses throughout his bibliography (or the books he's written that are speculative). It's the kind of book that you'll want to read over and over again, and after you finish it, you'll want to read it again just to see the whole story once you've come closer to its "core meaning."
The wonderful thing is that Murakami has refused to divulge much information about what he considers to be the book's meaning, so it really leaves it up to the reader to analyze it and wrestle with events that can sometimes seem to be very random or overtly symbolic. That being said, even if book analysis isn't one of your interests, this book will be a fantastic ride.