Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (2003) is the second book on my Travel Reading list. It’s also the second “Magical Realism” novel I’ve read after Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
Magical Realism is a genre I really need to explore more!
I first became interested in Murakami’s work after watching the film adaptation of his novel Norwegian Wood a few years ago at the NZ Film Festival. And then when a friend recommended Kafka on the Shore there was no way Murakami would be exempt from my “travel the world through novels” challenge.
This is another book about a runaway, this time fifteen year old “Kafka”, who is so trapped by the decisions of his parents that he feels the only way he can put his demons to rest is to break free from his life in Tokyo and make it on his own. Through his travels his destiny becomes intimately entwined with those around him, strangers who take on the physical and metaphorical roles of the fears he’s trying to flee from.
Magic and metaphor become so interwoven with reality that it’s difficult to find the line where one ends and the other begins, creating a dream-like quality as the reader drowns in Kafka’s journey to find his place. With a man who can talk to cats and cause fish to rain from the sky, I was turning the pages without any idea of what I might find on the other side.
Kafka on the Shore is a slow burning, philosophical read filled with nostalgic allusions to art and love and loss. It holds a quiet sadness that strongly contrasts and grounds the more fantastical elements, a sadness that permeates every character in the novel but also manifests itself differently for each of them.
One thing I really liked about this novel was the writing style. Not just the poetic language used but also that Murakumi plays with perspective, employing first person narrative alongside third person flavoured with a little second person and police reports. It didn’t feel forced or “clever”, it just felt like an integral part of the story.
The things I remember the most vividly about my short visits to Japan were the humidity and the deep green of the overrun nature. As Kafka wonders through the forest I could picture exactly what he was experiencing and it added another layer to the reading experience.
Although I really loved this book, I did find it a little slow at times and the openness to interpretation can be frustrating. However, for me this was definitely a narrative that was much more tied to my feelings than my thoughts, which is a state I always enjoy being in.
4 out of 5 stars.