Kafka is fifteen when he runs away from home, from a life that has no meaning because there is no one to love him or teach him. He means to be the strongest 15-year-old in the world. Self-taught, self-cultivated and seeking the true answers of his origin while trying to escape his father’s terrible words which portend shades of a loosely Oedipus-based retelling, Kafka follows his heart to a quiet town and a library where he will meet his future in a head-on collision. At the same time, Nakata, a sixty-year old man who hasn’t left Tokyo’s Nakano Ward since an accident during the second world war rendered him devoid of all his skills to learn and live like a normal person, finds himself in the middle of a crime which then leads him to a task he must complete. The two worlds of these protagonists, who alternately pick up the narrative, must combine at some point as they travel towards each other but this meeting is not meant to be conventional.
The most wonderful thing about Kafka on the Shore is its surrealistic but easily smooth-flowing narration- like a dream the books lifts you out of your own life and places you in another world altogether. A world where cats talk, fish and leeches rain from the sky, timeless and ageless pimps produce philosophy students doubling as prostitutes, limbo exists in a town deep inside a forest guarded by two un-aged men from the second world war, shapeless entities try escaping from connected worlds and Greek tragedies may or may not take real forms.
It sounds like an extraordinary book to take too seriously and nobody can expect Murakami’s hypnotic words to seep through with clarity. In short, it is a book that may need to be consumed many times for all of it’s layers to be understood. But in Kafka’s agonizing reflections, his life-altering experiences, his metaphorical journey towards finding meaning and a place where he can both smile and cry safely, there is something so compelling and beautiful that it draws you through.
Whatever else you might take from this book, one thing is for certain- you can easily be filled with wonder, bewilderment and perhaps bits of passion but each re-read of this book will be a different ride than the last one.
Would I want you to read it? Most definitely, yes.
Spoiler Alert- Expanded Review for the Initiated
Murakami’s bold sexual flavours may add a layer of resistance to this book’s attributes. At certain points, even I found myself cringing with the sheer audacity of the liberties he took with the narrative until second’s later I found myself grateful to be in this strange, warped reality of things that sound taboo but haunt the living world around us whether or not we choose to be an ostrich burying our heads between rocks.
This book has the potential to make you something else- something more than you are. With Kafka, I was riding a wave of inebriation, thinking of all the possibilities that make it possible for us to find the real us, if there is any such thing.
In addition to Kafka, Oshima became the unusual hero of the story for me. The haemophiliac gay transsexual represents a safety anchor while Miss Saeki is the unsettling ocean for Kafka on the shore. Another interesting conflict was the illusory, dream-rape of Sakura- the second half of the Oedipus prophecy.
Dozens of questions were left unanswered about the plot including the clear identity of the murderer, the issue of settling the mother and sister of Kafka’s childhood memories, the explanation of limbo, the purpose of Nakata’s journey, his ability to talk to cats, the interpretation of what happened to him when he was broken, the bewitching image-ghost of a live woman’s past that Kafka keeps seeing. And a lot more.
Rest assured, I will be thinking of this book for a long time to come.