Title: Kafka On The Shore
Author: Haruki Murakmi
Publisher: Knopf, 2005
Number of pages: 436
Rating: 5 out of 5
I love this book (as you can see from my first review), and every time I read it I love it more.
I’ve been wondering why I love it so much this time around. Is it because I understand it completely? Certainly not. Is it because of the mood? Probably that’s more accurate. But, it is also a fabulous puzzle…a riddle with no apparent solution…there’s no nifty neat conclusion all tied together with a bow on top.
It’s taken me a long while to appreciate that kind of book. I usually want answers; that undoubtedly comes from being an elementary school teacher for far too long. Now I’m content to suspend my disbelief, go along for the ride, see where Murakami is taking me.
Here he takes me along a journey with a fifteen year old boy who’s named himself Kafka. In a fit of teenage angst, or because of an Oedipal complex, he’s run away from his home and father to an obscure village where he thinks he can escape a prophecy about his mother and sister, a village where he hopes he’ll never be found.
What he does find is a library with a transexual librarian named Oshima, a boss named Miss Sakei (who may be his mother), a character named Johnnie Walker (who may be his father), a girl named Sakura (who may be his sister), and parallel to Kafka’s story is that of Nakata (who may be his missing other half).
It’s a complex world that Murakami creates, one deliberately confusing by his own admission. “Kafka on the shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form of this solution will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”
What may be a bit clearer is that Kafka On The Shore is loaded with themes. There are themes every where you look: popular Japanese culture, magical realism, sexuality, music, World War II, imagination, dreams, prophecy and the power of nature. It’s almost exhausting to see how these tie together, or what kind of solutions Murakami had in mind as he wrote.
Maybe he wanted me to be more concerned with how these themes work for me, the reader, than how they work for him, the writer.
Here’s how they work for me:
- Having an 18 year old son, which may be a far cry from 15 on some levels but isn’t really so far in others, I can understand the great emotional turmoil which comes with growing up. There’s so darn much to sort out about one’s self, one’s parents, one’s place in life. I loved reading about Kafka’s journey and his quest. (“Why did my mother abandon me when I was four?” he asks. A question surely worth pondering, in my opinion.)
- I loved how Nakata brought the truck driver, Hoshina, enlightenment. Here is Nakata, who cannot read and lives on what he calls a sub city (government subsidy) bringing an appreciation of classical music to Hoshina. Hoshina is enraptured by Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, a most beautiful piano concerto, which I had to download on my iPod after listening to it myself.
- I loved that Kafka retreated to a library when he ran away, and that he found immediate solace and understanding in the people and books there.
- I loved that Kafka made his way into the deeps of the forest, while the entrance stone which Nakata gave his life to lift was still open, and there found forgiveness for his mother.
If every time through this book lends itself to new insights, and I suspect that strongly to be the case, then this will be just the second time around in a long succession of unveilings to come. You owe it to yourself to read this book.