Author: HARUKI MURAKAMI
Japanese authors are slow, a long standing opinion. But Murakami’s Kafka on the shore speaks a unique style. A mixture of surrealistic events and thought provoking metaphors, Kafka on the shore impresses from page one.
Kafka, the fifteen year old boy from Tokyo is a runaway; he has long decided to go to Takamatsu. He leaves behind his dad, a sadistic cat killer and his only known relative, fearing that he would become like him. His father had supposedly cursed him; the Oedipal curse.
At the same time, Nakata, a 60 year old illiterate man who speaks better with cats than men gets entangled in Kafka’s father’s death. Nakata confesses the crime, but no one takes him seriously. For the first time in his life, Nakata leaves his town and travels westbound. He doesn’t know why he is travelling; only that he has to cross a big bridge.
Kafka, with the help of Oshima, finds refugee in a private library in Takamatsu. Sakura, a twenty year old girl helps him out of a difficult situation. Ms. Seiki, the head of the library is very kind towards Kafka. Slowly, Kafka theorises that Ms. Seiki to be his mother and Sakura to be his long lost sister. He is angry at them for abandoning him, but worried about the oedipal curse.
Nakata introduces himself to others as, “Nakata is not bright, Nakata can’t read.” He lives on a subsidy for mentally challenged. Apart from earning occasional meals by finding lost cats. One such expedition changes his life forever. The intriguing reason behind the accident that turned him incapable of understanding words adds to the mystery and depth of the character.
How did Nakata learn to speak with cats? Will Kafka’s father’s curse come true? Are Ms. Seiki and Sakura blood related? Are they his real mother and sister? Why would a mother leave a four year old with a sadistic father? Why does his the photo on the library wall remind him about his own childhood? What is the link between Nakata and Kafka?
It is not a book where all the plot threads are finally closed, and yet there is some closure at the end of the novel. The book is fast paced, but leaves us with lot of unanswered questions. Murakami’ s ideas are so strong that he makes us believe that anything the reader imagines is possible.
From Murakami’s interview, “The secret to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times: "Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write”
Music is an important component of the novel, the title comes from a pop song Kafka is given in the library by Oshima. It was sung by Ms. Seiki in her teenage, a sensational hit during that time. She never sung again. The music of Beethovan, and a background story about Beethovan’s life plays out in Nakata’s story.
So many riddles and a riveting read.