Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore is the first book by Haruki Murakami that fell into my hands and, even though I came to read more than a handful of his novels and short stories, I still consider Kafka on the Shore his best offering. I used to have my doubts about the merit of his work since the man is a star, but after reading this great novel I came to realize that he more than deserves his popularity.
     The main characters in this book are actually no more than two: Kafka, a fifteen year old, who runs away from home before he “explodes”, and Nakata, a somewhat mentally challenged old man who’s a professional cat detective. These two diametrically different people are bound together with an unseen thread, which obsoletes time and turns the worlds of yesterday and today into one. They are in the centre of the plot, or rather they are the plot, but we also see a few other people hanging about or around, which have some important or not so important role to play in the story: the androgynous librarian Oshima that takes Kafka under his protective wings, just when the youngster arrives at the city; miss Saeki, who seems to be the link between the present and the past; the enigmatic man that goes by the name of Johnny Walker and drives Nakata to the limits of despair; and Hoshino, who for no apparent reason at all, and without giving the matter a second thought, decides to follow Nakata on his quest.
     Murakami delivers a story that could be read as a fairytale; where people and times seem to merge together and where mystery sets the ground rules; where the answer to every question is always close at hand, but not the one we expect it to be. His heroes are people with passions and secrets; kept hostage by feelings of guilt and loneliness. They are as lonely as one can ever get. What if they cross paths? What if they feel at a time or another that they are close to each other? In the end it is the loneliness that prevails; it is only in isolation they can exist. The only one of them who seems to have a chance to break the rule is Nakata; because he lives every day as it comes; because, despite his desperate poverty, he is a symbol of the most simple and true values in life, values he can put into words, words he can put into action; unlike Oshima. The latter, a modern day philosopher, somewhere says: “Gays, lesbians, straights, feminists, fascist pigs, communists, Hare Krishnas – none of them bothers me. I couldn’t care less about the kind of banner they hold. What I cannot stand are empty people…”
     Fate has some sad times in store for the heroes of this story; but it is fate that in the end brings about the final solution. As the boy that goes by the name of Crow, (Kafka in Czech), says: “Sometimes fate looks just like a small sandstorm that changes direction all the time. You change course and it follows you. You turn elsewhere and it adjusts”.
     This book is just like a journey around the two distinct worlds of the souls and of fantasy; a trip into the regions of truth that cannot find their place in the colorless reality we live in. An enjoyable read, by a master storyteller, which every now and then just seems to take the reader’s breath away. Pure magic.

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