If you’re not familiar with the writings of Haruki Murakami but you think you might want to be, Kafka on the Shore would be a good place to start your discovery. The book has most if not all of Murakami’s trademark style and plot devises. His stories always involve characters who are in the middle of some life changing event and who are searching for some meaning to their relationship to those they’re close to in one way or the other. Of course, that kind of storyline accounts for the majority of novels ever written but Murakami also brings in aspects of spirituality and surrealism that form an interesting environment for his characters to wander around in.
Kafka on the Shore’s main character is a fifteen year old boy who’s taken on the nickname Kafka and he has an internal dialogue with his alter ego named Crow who helps guide him through the turbulence of being a runaway. There’s some clever wordplay from the author in the name as in most of Murakami’s work as Kafka is Czechoslovakian for crow. Kafka is running away from his sculptor father who he’s been living with since his parent’s divorce. The split happened when Kafka was very young and he remembers little about his mother and his sister who’s been living with her. During his runaway journey, Kafka’s mother and sister keep showing up in spiritual form in one way or the other.
Another main character is Nakata whose mental capacities were greatly reduced during a field trip by an unexplainable incident when he was in elementary school. Though he was left with the mind of a preschool child, he acquired the ability to communicate with cats. Cats are also a reoccurring theme in Murakami’s work. Nakata eventually ends up in a showdown of sorts with the cat hating Johnny Walker who may or may not be Kafka’s father and who dresses just like the whisky logo.
As with most of Murakami’s novels, seemingly disparate characters and events often end up tangled together in a kind of mystical stew that involves travel, the unknown and all kinds of side roads that seem to be real and unreal at the same time.
Murakami isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if you’re looking for something that’s well written and slightly off the beaten path, you should give him a shot.