Haruki Murakami is not for everyone, but he’s one of my favorite authors. His indescribable blend of post modernism, magic realism, and surrealism set in his native Japan never fail to provoke rumination on topics ranging from existential to mundane. This novel is translated by the prize-winning J. Philip Gabriel.
Many of Murakami’s protagonists are shy, inward-turning souls seeking something beyond their present circumstances. Kafka on the Shore centers around Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old who has decided to abandon his home and make it on his own. He is warned by a sort of alter ego, a boy named Crow, that leaving won’t be easy, and that a possibly harsher existence awaits him. But he meets people along the way who help shelter him while he seeks his destiny.
As in many Murakmi novels, there are parallel storylines that eventually, in some way, converge. In Kafka on the Shore, there are two main storylines: Kafka’s quest, told in first person, and the story of Nakata, told in third person. Nakata also finds companions on his journey, both human and feline. Although he does not have the cognitive abilities of an average person, he has his own gifts, such as the ability to talk to cats, and a kind of sixth sense about the intangible, or perhaps supernatural, world that the novel explores. The concepts of soul mates, shadows, ghosts, and portals to other worlds draw these diverse existences into indirect alignment. But for all these magical elements, the story is firmly grounded in a familiar and ordinary existence. The reader must ultimately be comfortable with ambiguity, because Murakami isn’t one for tight plots and happily-ever-afters. The joy is more in the exploration of the characters’ inner lives as they seek a sense of completion.