Kafka on the Shore - 2015 Reading Challenge

After a couple bad reading experiences, I was desperate to pick up a book that sucked me in and didn't let me go until I was finished. Fortunately, Haruki Murakami delivered. Kafka on the Shore is the third of his books that I've read, the others being the first two books of his 1Q84 trilogy (also great, and which I need to finish). A book with magic 

Even though I've only read a few of his books, I've come to count on Murakami for a few things.

  1. He always has great characters. Real, alive, interesting, vibrant, with unique histories that actually make me want more backstory, which is always an interesting feeling.

  2. Magical realism. If that's not familiar to you, it basically means there are magical elements taking place in an otherwise real world, whereas fantasies are usually set in imaginary places or time periods.

  3. Good weirdness. There is such a thing, and I love it.

Kafka on the Shore takes place largely through the eyes of two characters, although it is often written in a more omniscient third person. We mostly focus on a 15-year-old runaway who has given himself the fake name 'Kafka', and on an elderly simpleton named Nakata who had a childhood occurrence that left him without any memory.

Kafka runs away from his father after the loving guy prophesies that Kafka will sleep with his estranged mother and sister. He ends up in a completely new city in Japan and quickly makes friends with a local librarian named Oshima, who offers him a place to stay. He soon meets the beautiful, dreamily sad Miss Saeki, who has returned to the city to run the library decades after losing the love of her life in her youth.

During World War II, Nakata and several other children fell prey to a mysterious ailment akin to mass hypnosis. While all the other children recovered after a few hours, he spent weeks unconscious in a military hospital before finally waking with no memory of his life or any abilities he had learned in school. However, he has found he can communicate with cats.

Most cats, that is. The brown striped ones are particularly difficult to talk to.

When Nakata discovers a local man is capturing stray cats and stealing their souls, he takes action and then must go on the run, leaving Tokyo for the first time in his adult life.

 Murakami quote

Murakami quote

This is not the kind of story you can summarize easily, but it is beautiful in its complexity and unique in every way. It explores the themes of memory and magic, philosophy and history, and a remarkably mature 15-year-old who at his heart, just wants to find his mother.

For me, the most interesting part is finding out how the stories intertwine. Murakami is brilliant at keeping the two main characters apart until the last possible second, and the result is a read that keeps you turning the pages and imagining scenarios as you go.

Kafka on the Shore will not leave you with a nice, tidy ending that will make you understand everything. But it has left me with memorable characters and language, imagery that will last, and a solid desire to read more of Murakami's work.