It was only last week that I wrote in my blog that though I was excited to share my review of “Kafka on the Shore’ but will certainly be some time before I do that as it is about 600 pages long. But here I am already writing a review and not a whole week has passed yet. Thats the riveting capability of the story that Murakami has penned. I haven’t read a more unputdownable book in a long long time.
Kafka Tamura decides to run away from home on his 15th birthday, “journey to a far-off town and live in a corner of a small library.” Kafka is one half of the central character in the novel, the other being Nakata, a sexagenarian with an uncanny ability to talk to cats but without the general ability to comprehend much of anything normal. The lives and the trysts of these two characters are the two plots that run in parallel throughout the novel and slowly converge towards the end, or perhaps the beginning.
Upon a rather thorough preparation, Kafka runs from his house, his father and from memories of a mother (who he has no recollection of) who abandoned him when he was only 4, taking along with her her adopted daughter. He decides to go to Shikoku, for no particular reason, “only that studying the map I got the feeling that’s where I should head. The more I look at the map – actually every time I study it – the more I feel Shikoku tugging at me.” Finally after an over 10 hours bus journey Kafka reaches Takamatsu and lans up in a private library with a rare collection of books. It is here that he meets Oshima and soon an intimate friendship builds up which paves much of the way for the story to progress.
In another city, lives Nakata who has lost most of this mental prowess after a freak accident many years back. Glimpses of that incident a narrated through a third and short narrative. But devoid of his sense of basic judgement, Nakata now has the ability to converse with cats and has thus become a sought after “tracker of lost cats” in his neighbourhood. One such assignment, to find the missing one year old tortoiseshell cat Goma, brings Nakata to the mysterious Johnnie Walker, the cat killer. Fate takes a turn and Nakata commits a heinous crime under exceptional circumstances. Sardines and mackerel rain from the sky and Nakata knows he has to leave his city.
As the story progresses the protagonists find themselves sucked in the eye of a whirlpool as their destinies set to converge.
Murakami spins a magic realism in this book and probably in most of his other books too (which I haven’t read yet), something that is very reminiscent of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. But what differentiates it from Marquez is the urban setting of the story and the modern characters that it revolves around. This blend of modernity with such surrealism creates a mesmerising aura and the reader is pulled into its ‘labyrinth’. Dreams and realities overlap as the characters struggle to distinguish one from another. Alter egos are created and obliterated at the same pace. Memories remain bridled in the consciousness and events mired in riddles as the quest for self realisation and, perhaps, penance continues.
This is one of those few books, where the interpretation of multiple events as described in story are left for the readers to understand. And every time you read the book, it unfolds itself in a new way. The book is full of metaphorical and allegorical allusions and draws heavily from the Greek tragedy Oedipus amongst other American and Japanese stories. Read this book if not for anything then for the deft handling of the metaphysical and the real and the inner conflict of its main protagonist Kafka.
As a parting note I will confess that I have been truly and deeply smitten by Murakami in a way like never before and I shall not rest until such time that I have read all his books.
My blog page also has a documentary on Haruki Murakami, do stop by for a watch.
My rating 5/5
Buy it here Kafka On The Shore