When I first decided to read Kafka on the Shore for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge, I didn’t know anything about Murakami or the book itself. All I knew was that I had seen it around a lot and that I was intimidated by it. Funny how those prejudices form for no apparent reason. Even though I had a few fears or concerns about how the reading was going to go for the book, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this book is to read. Understanding it might be a different thing all together, but I was swept away by the writing.
In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami weaves together the story of Kafka and Nakata. Kafka is a young boy of fifteen who suddenly runs away from home and finds refuge and new friends at a library. He is fighting to prevent his father’s prophesy from coming true–a Oedipal prophesy that Kafka will kill his father and sleep with his mother and sister who abandoned him when he was four. Nataka, an elderly gentleman who lost many of his intellectual capacity during a WWII incident, has the ability to speak with cats and works to find lost cats. One lost cat in particular leads him on a whirlwind scavenger hunt for something, but even Nakata doesn’t know what that something is. Each chapter alternates between Kafka’s and Nakata’s story, and it isn’t clear until well into the story how the two are connected with one another. But unbeknownst to each other, they are both searching for the answers and meaning to the same secret–a secret that will free them both.
What a book! There is so much packed into these 467 pages that I’m sitting here in front of the computer screen drawing a blank one what to write about. Where to start? It is safe to say that all my expectations of this book were fully met and every intimidation I was feeling was a waste of time. True, it took me about two weeks to complete this one (stopping for a shorter read in the middle), but Kafka is at once a poetically written book but it is also incredibly accessible:
“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. What I’ve done up till now, what I’m going to do–they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than a passing thought before. Not just stars–how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless. And I know I’ll never outrun that awful feeling” (Kafka narrating, 135).
Murakami gives us so much to think about in this book, and after finishing I still felt like there were so many pieces of the puzzle that needed to be fit together. But despite the philosophy and theory and deep thinking, this book is also a thriller. I found myself holding my breath at some passages, not knowing what was going to happen, having to keep turning the pages to discover the outcome of the latest conflict. Another element I wasn’t expecting in the least, was the magical element. I just found out that this book won the World Fantasy Award a few years back, and I had no idea that I would be encountering magical rocks, strange “concepts” that disguise themselves as pop culture icons, a man who can talk to cats and cats that talk back, fish that rain from the sky–and really that’s just the beginning.
So again, Wow, what a book! I would recommend this book, especially if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary and something that will make you think [a lot]. There is some sexual content in the book–and Kafka is fifteen so his hormones are raging, but I didn’t find it overwhelming or tastelessly done. All in all, this is a book that will stick with me a for a while as I continue to mull everything over to try and fit those pieces together. And I’ll definitely be pursuing more Murakami in the future. Maybe Wind-Up Bird Chronicles?
The book concludes my 1% Well-Read Challenge and Japanese Literature Challenge. I hope to eventually do a 2008 Challenge wrap-up posts and cheat to include these. It’s just one book, right??