Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Kafka on the Shore


For several years, I've been interested in reading the work of Haruki Murakami, so I was very pleased to find the novel, Kafka on the Shore, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, on a small table in my daughter's room.  Over the years, I've read a lot about Murakami's work, and was interested in several novels by this prolific, bestselling author, as well as his memoir, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which caught my interest even before I'd begun to run on a regular basis.

"On my fifteenth birthday I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library."

Published in 2005, Kafka on the Shore focuses on protagonist Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who lives with his father in Tokyo.  Kafka runs away from home to escape from his troubles with his father. The first five chapters in this book are told in the first person narrative by Kafka.  On the run, Kafka travels to a shore village called Takamatsu, and discovers the Komura Family Library, where he meets Oshima, who works at the library.  Throughout the book, Oshima helps Kafka in numerous ways.  Kafka also meets the lovely but sad Miss Saeki, who's in charge of the library.  In Chapter 6, we meet Satoru Nakata, an older man who refers to himself in the third person throughout the book simply as Nakata.  He "used to be smart",  but due to a strange accident Nakata became mentally disabled, and lost his ability to read.  Oddly, though, Nakata can talk to cats, and he helps find missing cats. (Chapter 16, "the scary cat chapter", was very difficult for me to read. Without saying too much about it, what happens in this chapter is horrific; I felt as if I were suddenly, temporarily reading a Stephen King horror story.)  Later Nakata meets Hoshino, a truck driver, and they become good friends. Nakata reminds Hoshino of his grandfather, and together they embark on a special quest. The lives of all of these characters, and other, secondary characters, like Sakura, Johnnie Walker, and Colonel Sanders, intersect in numerous, unusual ways, creating an unforgettable story. 

There are so many things I could say about Kafka on the Shore.  It's a story unlike any other I've read.  It's a beautifully written book that features a passion for books and libraries, music, nature, food (mostly delicious Japanese food), cats, and perhaps most importantly, friendship.  The protagonist's very name, Kafka, reflects themes of writer Franz Kafka's work, of alienation and loneliness. The wonderful friendships that develop in this book, especially between Kafka and Oshima, and Nakata and Hoshino, are antidotes to this alienation; the characters help and care for each other, and in doing so, provide companionship and solace. Throughout the book, Kafka seeks close, familial connection to others; he wonders if Miss Saeki is his mother, if Sakura is his sister. He craves connection.

Kafka on the Shore is a magical story which also has some magic, or more precisely, magical realism, in it, in just the right amount. At times, readers are left to wonder what's real and what's imaginary. I read the book at a leisurely pace, often at night before I went to sleep, a chapter or two at a time. I looked forward to my time with this novel because the book is original and fascinating. The main characters in this novel are unique and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I've been to Japan twice (my daughter lives in Japan so we have a good "excuse" to travel there), which enhanced my enjoyment of the book.  I'd like to reread Kafka on the Shore soon, while it's still fresh in my mind, because I enjoyed it a great deal and would like to understand it at a deeper level.  There are several puzzles and mysteries in the book, and although I'm not sure I will ever solve all of them, a rereading would at least bring me closer.  It would also be a pleasure.   



Special thanks to Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza for hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge 12.  She has hosted this challenge for many years, and in doing so has introduced me to the rich world of Japanese literature, for which I'm grateful.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed, as always.

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