"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. It sounds a little like a fairy tale. But it's no fairy tale, believe me"..
Karuki Murakami's name has been put forward by many enthusiast as one of the potential Nobel candidate in the near future. After his runaway success with the translation of Wind up Chronicle and the rest, there are many who have fallen for his style of writing. The recent release of his magnum opus 1Q04 ( English translation is expected any time), his popularity among serious readers have gone up dramatically. I have been holding on to this book for over 3 years and have decided to pick it up for reading during the 'nobel speculation'.
First things first,I'm not a great fan of huge books. While I appreciate his style and writing, my comments about this book is rather reserved. I am not as blown away as some of my friends are over this book. Midway through the journey I even felt bored and thought of hanging up. More over the book to be resembled more European than Japanese to me. Which also signifies the shift in the modern writing in the Easter Part of the world.
The novel is about a 15 year old boy running away from home leaving his sculpture father behind. He escapes to a remote corner of the country taking refuge in a private owned library working there in part time. There is a parallel thread which is to merge ( or come close) towards the end talks about an old man suffered irreparable damage ( to his memory ) during an incident post the WW2. After a long time spend in hospital post a mass hypnotic effect ( as we read through the X-Files of US military intelligence), he looses his power of comprehension and gains the knowledge of the languages of the cats. After working in a carpenters for 30 years, he is now retired and living on the grand provided by the district governor. The story of the boy Kafka Tamura as he identify himself, goes through his life in the library where he befriends Oshima , a 21 year old transgender who is the keeper of the library and who assist Kafka to settle and hide from the world. A magestic lady who presumably the owner of the place called Miss Saeki, with a mysterious present and past - as a singer pianist who had a sold out album with a smash hit titled Kafka on the Shore. And Kafka's one night friendship with Sakura a 21 year old beautician,who helps him during his troubled time.
Nakata spent his time locating and retrieving lost cats for the neighborhood houses using his ability to speak to cats. The meagre amount of 'thanks giving' money he keeps for himself. It is in one of such sojourn he bump into Johnnie Walker ( yes, with hat and stick) who kills cats and eat their soul. To protect the cat he has to secure and return, Nakata had to kill Johnnie walker in his den. His admission of guilt at the local police station and the prediction of a 'rain of fishes' was not taken seriously. He embark upon a long journey , not knowing where and how, by hitch hiking across the highway.
In the meanwhile the murder of the famous sculpture Tamura by stab wounds are out. Its all over the news. The only clue police had the mysterious man claiming to have killed him and that his 15 year old son had ran away from home a day before. Nakata continue his journey as he felt and asking the driver to help him cross the huge bridge where he need to get the "entrance stone". Nakata's life has a meaning now and he need to execute what is written for him to perform. With the help of his new found man friday ( truck driver Hoshino) , he set about getting access to the 'Entrance stone' and the library where he meet Miss Saeki as scripted. Soon both Miss Saeki and Nakata leave this world, leaving the rest perplexed ( and us the readers). Further continuing the riddled narration Murakami takes us to the shore with a rather obvious ending.
The book evolves around the riddles and Murakami is not trying to find the answer for you. He keeps us guessing ( the obvious) without revealing it clearly, letting the reader to his own conclusions. Is Miss Saeki his real mother ? Is Sakura his sister ? Is the sculpture his biological father ? there are no answers ? What is Nakata's role in this ? Is he fulfilling what the destiny asked him to do ? Why was the truck driver Hoshino part of the plot and what was he trying to find for himself ? That also brings an interesting observation about this book. It is these peripheral characters that makes it interesting to read. It is they which adds color and content to the story. Miss Saeki , The truck driver Hoshino, the transgender Oshima are the ones that make this an interesting read.
There are cats talking to people and among themselves , the text is intermixed and often take the surreal path. There are souls of living people wandering at night even making love, there is johnnie walker and Sanderos of KFC ( works as a pimp as well as a guide in finding out the entrance stone), You also find the boys alter ego called "The boy called Crow" talking to himself ( Kafka means Crow in Czech language, apparently). Its a quagmire of images and concepts and Murakami is trying put all that into one place. It is confusing at first and intriguing as you read through. But the whole puzzle falls in place as you continue reading. In the end, I guess you will be rewarded for your patience, albeit the puzzle is not solved entirely for you. Murakami puts it as "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 this solution takes will be different for each reader."
The book is a fast page turner and I had a rather fast read of a 600+ page book. I still find it a little too long with a lot of dragging pages. While this is a prelude to reading 1Q04 ( I am not likely to go for any of his other books judging by this read), and a good introduction to his writing. Not a bad read, but not exceptional as I was made to believe.
Kafka on the Shore ( 2003)
Haruki Murakami ( translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel 2005)
Other Reviews : Wikipedia, Contemporary Literature, NY Times, Guardian, Newyorker, Complete Review