Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore
From Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami:
Open quote 

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: B+

I'm a huge Haruki Murakami fan. This novel, published in Japanese in 2002, and translated to English in 2005, was on the New York Times bestseller list, so I'm not alone in my taste. But Murakami is not for everyone. His style is sometimes called magical realism, where an otherwise straightforward story contains elements out of a fantasy world. "Kafka by the Shore" has talking cats. Johnnie Walker (from the whiskey logo) makes a cameo; so does Colonel Sanders (the chicken restaurant founder). In one scene fish rain down from the sky. In another two soldiers appear in a forest, unchanged since WWII. All of this is recognized as surreal by the other characters in the novel, but accepted as real also.

The novel contains two parallel stories, one featuring a fifteen-year-old boy, abandoned by his mother at age four, who runs away from home and an emotionally abusive father who prophesies that he will kill his father and be with his mother and sister. His flight leads him like fate to a secluded private library in the town of Takamatsu run by a reclusive fifty-year-old woman, who just might or might not be his long-lost mother.

The parallel story is of Nakata, an old man who suffered some mysterious malady as a child during the closing days of WWII, from which he never fully recovered mentally. After a run-in with the aforementioned Johnnie Walker, this simple man Nakata flees Tokyo and for reasons even he doesn't know (fate again?), he heads west until he, too, ends up in Takamatsu.

"Kafka on the Shore" is full of metaphor, symbolism, metaphysics, self-reflection and more ambiguity than many readers will likely be able to take. References abound to figures like Kafka (of course), Hegel (by a prostitute no less), Beethoven, Prince, The Sound of Music (go figure), The Book of the Thousand and One Nights, The Tale of Genji, and many more. You can either ignore all that and just read it as a page-turner, or stop and savor deeper meanings on almost any page. Like all Murakami novels, just enough ambiguity remains when you finish reading to keep you thinking about the novel long after you put it down.

This marks the fifth Murakami novel I've read. If you read just one, I recommend my favorite, "1Q84". But any of them are worthy. They can be read in any order, but I'd save the early "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" for last. Murakami's skill as a writer has improved greatly over time.

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