Are you looking for a book that’s surreal, vibrant, and is penned by one of the preeminent writers alive today? One that includes talking cats, a diverse cast of characters and that is sometimes narrated in the second person?
If you answered yes, then I’ve got a novel for you. And if you answered no, I still think you should read it – it’s that good. It’s called Kafka on the Shore and it’s by Haruki Murakami, the Japanese author of the more recent mega-novel 1Q84. I decided that, despite the critical and commercial success of the latter, a thousand pages was a bit much to tackle for my first book review and on my busy schedule of class, homework, more class and Netflix binges.
So Kafka on the Shore it was and let me tell you, this book was absolutely stunning: a tour de force, a brilliant story of a fifteen-year-old boy on an odyssey of identity across Japan and within every plane of existence, real and unreal.
But first! A disclaimer: There are a few pages of animal violence near the beginning (pages 132 to 137 if you’d like to avoid it – it’s extremely graphic). Although this part is somewhat important, the book can easily be read without it and you’ll figure out what happens quickly as you read! Additionally, there is a good amount of sex and a small amount of profanity in the novel; Murakami does an excellent job of pushing Kafka’s character into manhood with the former, and does not over-utilize the latter.
The story starts when Kafka runs away from home, sick of junior high and ready to leave his non-existent relationship with his father behind. From Tokyo, Kafka finds his way to a rural private library, at which enigmatic Miss Saeki is the head librarian and kind Oshima is an assistant. Oshima and Miss Saeki end up allowing Kafka to stay in a room at the library and work for them, cleaning and preforming odd jobs.
Meanwhile, Nakata is an old man living with a mental illness in Tokyo (due to a completely freaky childhood accident, prepare yourself for that). He spends his time finding lost cats for people, for which he earns a little pocket money – an easy job, given his ability to speak with cats (side note: so jealous). When one family asks him to find their lost cat Goma, however, his path intersects with Johnnie Walker (yes, like the whiskey) and he is cartwheeled out of his comfort zone and into the larger world, real and unreal alike. There he meets Hoshino, a truck-driver turned Beethoven connoisseur, and together they embark on their own quest that overlaps and seeps into Kafka’s journey without ever fully meeting.
Kafka on the Shore has rhythm. It has power and grace. It’s like a song that you dance along to, and then upon hearing the lyrics suddenly begin to cry. But instead of mere happiness and sadness being juxtaposed, Murakami sets side-by-side the bizarre turns life so often takes and the painful blandness of the real world. It’s a novel about growing up, but it talks about growing up in an incredibly unique way.
While I was reading it, someone approached me and asked if it was a “spiritual” book. I immediately said no, but then stopped and reconsidered – in a way, that’s exactly what this novel is: a spiritual exploration through the lens of a fifteen-year-old runaway and a seventy-year-old man who can talk with cats. And it succeeds marvelously, even with such unusual movement, and it succeeds wholly by virtue of Murakami’s enormous talent.
Basically, It is a definite must-read, both for pleasure and for personal gain. Murakami certainly made me reconsider the way people think, act, and grow, and why. Plus it was like his imagination exploded all over a bunch of blank pages which is, well, awesome.
Katie Joiner is an English and Secondary Education major with a minor in Spanish. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile, enjoys Earl Grey tea, and adores the College.