Friday, March 12, 2010

Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore is another excellent book by Haruki Murakami, author of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Despite being cerebral and dream-like, it is a compelling page turner. Murakami is at the top of his craft, and I'm looking forward to reading more. (Coincidentally, his latest book, which is currently being published in Japan and scheduled for publication in English next year, is 1Q84. Which I learned about just after I finished reading 1984 and decided to read Kafka next.)

The book tells the stories of two very different characters in alternating chapters. Kafka Tamura is a 15-year-old runaway attempting to escape an Oedipal curse. His father is a famous sculptor; he has no memory of his mother and sister, who left when he was a toddler. He takes a bus 10 hours to Takamatsu, which is separated from mainland Japan by the Inland Sea. After spending a couple of days there, he finds his way to the Komura Memorial Library, where he finds a comfortable place to while away the time and eventually a place to stay. There he befriends the androgynous hemophiliac Oshima and the lovely head librarian Miss Saeki.

Satoru Nakata is a 60-something-year-old man who lost the abilities to read and to remember things in a mysterious accident during a childhood mushroom gathering trip. He simultaneously gained the ability to converse with cats, however, which he has put to use as a part-time searcher for lost house cats. One such search puts him on a path that takes him far from home, with 21-year-old trucker Hoshino as his companion/disciple.

The paths of the two characters converge in the physical world as their stories unfold. Meanwhile, strange things are afoot in the spirit world: sex, revelations and even murder. While many authors have tried to depict dreamscapes, Murakami's talent is so great you actually believe they are your own visions. The book is a puzzle - one character might be Kafka's mother, another might be his sister, one spirit appears to be frozen in time decades prior while another exists in the present. Murakami himself says the riddle can only unfold with multiple readings. Though I can't promise to make that commitment, the book is a mind-bender and a pleasure to read, even if I never quite figure everything out.

Next up: Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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