Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Sometimes a novel moves through and beyond such trite descriptions as gripping narrative, talented writing, and beautiful prose. Sometimes a novel becomes important. Kafka on the Shore, while encompassing any number of canned descriptions such as those above, is important. I feel that I could read this novel a dozen times and come away with a different understanding each time.

Kafka on the Shore tells the story of 15-year old Kafka Tamura as he runs away from his home in Tokyo and a cold, distant father. Kafka is that silent brooding guy in the back of the class who never says anything, never smiles, and has no friends. He is mature beyond his 15 years, intelligent, conflicted, yet naïve as the typical adolescent male.

Kafka travels to the southerly city of Takamatsu where he searches for something – perhaps the mother who abandoned him at a young age, perhaps the sister lost to him with the mother, perhaps a way out of the world. He discovers a private library and its eccentric staff (or maybe the library discovers him); they take him in.

Mr. Nakata suffered mysterious and terrible accident as a child during World War II. He is now a harmless old man who enjoys conversations cats and predicts unexplainable events – such as fish falling from a cloudless sky. A meeting with a strange entity in the guise of Johnny Walker sets him on a journey to set things right in the world and its relation to other worlds.

For those that love labels, magical realism generally describes the atmosphere created by Murakami. For readers like myself who have limited exposure ‘non-Western’ literature, Kafka on the Shore is a great gateway to the East. This Japanese story cuts across cultures and reminds that humanity has more in common than we often realize.

Kafka on the Shore will speak to different people in different ways, and I’m still working out what was ‘said’ to me. It is a beautiful and meaningful novel that I certainly recommend. On my 10-point rating scale (described here), Kafka on the Shore rates a solid 8.


Anonymous said...

I really have trouble with the 'Magical Realist" label in this case, because I tended to go "Surreal!!" every time I read it. Labels suck.

This book, however, rules! And I'm glad you agree. :)

Neth said...

I'm not a big fan of labels either, I just put it in there because so many people crave them. Surreal is a good way to describe the atmosphere Murakami creates, as would mystical (though I like surreal better).


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