Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Kafka Tamura is a fifteen-year-old boy running away from his father, and from the curse he predicted for him, a well-known curse of Greek origins. Leaving Nogata, in Tokyo, he takes the bus to Shikoku and meets a young woman named Sakura, whom he imagine could be his long-lost sister. Once in Shikoku, Kafka spends his day in a private library where he meets Oshima, a literate and charismatic librarian with a secret, and Miss Saeki, an enigmatic woman in her fifties, who runs the place for its rich founders.
At the same time, in Nogata, Tokyo, we are introduced to another main character, an old man named Nakata considered as dumb, since he lost many abilities, like reading and writing, after a strange incident. This incident involved the unexplained simultaneous fainting of an entire class of pupils in a forest during WWII, and also left Nakata, the only one with sequels, able to have conversation with cats. After a very strange and dramatic event, Nakata knows that he must leave Tokyo and that he has a quest to help fulfill…
Thus, the fate of these two individuals, Kafka and Nakata, collide in unexpected ways, after, through twisted ways, they both become the potential murderer of a man whose identity itself is a mystery.
Kafka on the Shore is not an easy story to sum up, since its course often takes us to the surreal, to the realm of dreams. Kafka on the Shore is essentially a coming-of-age metafiction, and Murakami often refers to the genre, whether directly (when Oshima and Kafka discuss a famous Japanese Buildingsroman, or the utility of the metaphor, of which he himself makes an extended use) or indirectly, using a profusion of symbols connected to the formation of the hero and all his rites of passage (crossing of the forbidden forest, facing one’s own demons, achieving a quest)
In the review for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, I had noticed that Murakami was inspired by Paul Auster. The inspiration is still there (Lulu on the Bridge comes to mind at times), and the subject of the quest for identity, which is one of Auster’s favorite, is central to Kafka on the Shore, but Murakami’s own original style emerges more clearly, and I appreciated the fact that the story stays focused and does not loses itself in huge digressions, like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle sometimes did.
The reason this novel didn’t deserve a five is because I was left a bit disappointed by the ending, not finding the sense of closure Kafka seems to find…