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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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Kafka on the Shore is one of those books where I like the journey more than the destination, so to speak. I loved seeing how Kafka, Nakata, and later Hoshino developed over the book, as well as Ms Saeki and Oshima. There is some unanswered questions, it's pretty open-ended, and I am not exactly sure how Nakata is related to Ms Saeki, what's the deal with Kafka's father, and the whole curse, but I feel that all the characters' arc came to a close at the end of the book and I was left satisfied with that. Like the reader doesn't get a "and the live happily ever after" or an epilogue stating what they did after the events of the book, but instead the reader has seen how these characters have grown and can imagine what they will do next. As far as the writing, I like how Kafka's chapters are written in first person present tense, it does switch to 2nd person when the Boy Named Crow speak, but that part is bolded, and Nakata's are written in third person past tense. Murakami writes in a matter-of-fact this is how it happened style that I also enjoy as well. Over all I really enjoy the book, and I will have to re-read it again later.
Murakami seamlessly brings the magical into the everyday in Kafka on the Shore. Fish bizarrely fall from the sky, cats disappear and enlist the help of old men, and figures such as Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders pop into the story. There were parts I found difficult to read - especially those relating to Johnny Walker - but this leads to deep satisfaction at the conclusion of Nakata's storyline.
I think the most enjoyable part of this story is trying to figure out how everything fits together, trying to figure out what Nakata and Kafka and Johnny Walker and the creature at the end all have to do with one another. It may be a cause to give up, but I have my theories, and perhaps other readers will too.
- Murakami did the translation himself, which means the writing conforms as closely to the original intent as possible. Obviously, this is fairly rare for international literature.
- It's magical realism. Don't expect it all to make perfect sense in the moment.
- The book is full of plot twists that aren't telegraphed chapters in advance.
- Maybe incest is a central theme of the book, and maybe it's all just a trick of time and perception.
- Not one single word or element is wasted.
- You need not be versed in metaphysics, WWII-era Japan, or Japanese mythology to enjoy the book, but it really helps.
- There is a seriously gruesome scene involving one of the main characters and cats that's best skimmed for the weak of stomach.
- Murakami is the antidote to modern literature from native English speakers who mistake a clever story for a meaningful one.