Kafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami
Knopf; 436 pages

Murakami’s 2005 novel Kafka on the Shore has been resting on my living room bookshelf for quite while, but during the recent holiday season I was able to pick it up and dive in. Though it took a few chapters to really get involved and committed, from then on I was hooked.

This elliptical tale evolves from the perspectives and actions of two disconnected but strangely connected characters. Kafka Tamura, a teenage runaway, is attempting to escape either a distant father who cursed him with an oedipal prophecy, or to locate his mother and sister who long abandoned them. His narrative counterpart, Nakata, is on the surface an aging, mentally-challenged man, but one who “in reality” never recovered from a mysterious wartime illness. Both are as attractive as they are at times repellent, and Murakami seems to craft them both as very grounded in the “real”, so they can act as an anchor when the plot becomes, as usual in his stories, unreal.

The novel starts out in the real world, but as soon as a flashback to the war develops, this recurring theme signals the entrance of the unreal. A world where Nakata can speak with cats and they speak back, where Kafka can see visions of the past, and where they both get messages from beyond. And where creatures fall from the sky, murder goes unpunished, genders bend and age reverses itself.

Unlike other Murakami stories, Kafka on the Shore doesn’t stop at subtle reality bending–it just goes for it. Reality is flexible and bendable, the characters enter different worlds and times and escape others, and their “reailty,” like ours, is merely the one we create and accept.

To say more would give things away. You must decide if you want to open the pages and dive head first into the rabbit hole.

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