I have mixed feelings about Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. It was beautiful in some places and disturbing in others.
Kafka Tamura and Satoru Nakata, two separate characters who never meet, dance through an intertwined plot. Kafka, a 15-year-old boy, runs away from home, partly because his father is somewhat abusive and partly to find the mother (and sister) that deserted him as a baby. Satoru Nakata had an accident as a boy during World War II, and has never been the same with diminished faculties. However, he has some interesting abilities such as talking to cats to compensate for his losses.
While Kafka’s searching for answers about his family and discovering himself, Nakata is trying to open the entrance stone to another world, to set to right something that was made askew years ago by a woman who wanted to stop time. Many of Kafka’s answers lie in this other world and with this woman.
While there are undeniably elements about the otherworldly, about fantasy, in this book, it’s based in nothing more or less magical than the human psyche and soul; that’s where the real mystery lies. Then and now.
The majority of this book, although there is plenty of outside action, takes place within the halls of the human heart.
Kafka’s obviously tormented by his mother’s abandonment as a child and his father’s evil , whatever that is (we have an idea, but Kafka never actually mentions it). But despite this, or maybe because of it, he’s an intelligent, introspective kid who gets the subtle and abstract.
Nakata’s a simpleton to the world, he can’t read or write, but he communes with the world on a fundamental basis, one that leads him to a destiny and—eventually—wholeness.
The supporting cast of characters are very well-rounded and interesting. There’s Miss Saeki, a mysterious woman with a tragic past and an adulthood that’s shrouded in mystery. Oshima’s highly intelligent, but has gender identity issues that makes life difficult in a unique way. Hoshino’s a regular guy who gets sucked into Nakata’s mission and finds himself improved because of it.
The storyline consists of two plots that are intertwined. Kafka’s line starts with his running away, continues with his life at a library where he meats Miss Saeki and Oshima, and departs briefly into that other world before he comes to grips with his reality and grow up (he is, after all, just a child). Meanwhile Nakata meets a sinister man in search of a missing cat, an encounter that leads to his journey alongside that other world in order to set right something that was set wrong years ago. Together, the lines intertwine cleverly, the two main characters brushing against each other but never quite meeting.
There are some deep thoughts, beautiful words, and interesting ideas portrayed. After all, the book is about humans learning to cope with pain, disappointment, and heartache:
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”
“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.”
“Not just beautiful, though—the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.”
This book is lodged in the evolution of every person throughout life. It’s perfectly natural to go through stages as a teenager of anger and confusion, especially if there’s an absentee mother to deal with. What’s not natural is the weird Oedipal theme that runs through the book. That I could’ve done without.
For the incestuous portions. They were completely unnecessary. I think they weakened the story.