Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
This book is a lot more intriguing than what its title conveys. Kafka on the Shore is a metaphorical passage spanning across life’s tragedies and tribulations, attempting to throw questions about death and the metaphysical world which we, as day-to-day people, tangentially touch every now and then.
If the above paragraph seems a bit abstract to you, I have probably done justice to the book. It is a fantasy novel, a page turner, a thriller, a concept, an introspection and a series of questions – all rolled into one.
There are two parallel stories that slowly converge and possibly intersect at one point in time. Kafka Tamura is a 15 year old boy who runs away from home, to escape a curse bestowed upon him by his father. His journeys finally take him to a library in a rather nondescript town where he lands a job as an assistant. Here, he meets the library owner, Miss Saeki, who is possibly his mother. The boy, who takes upon himself the name “Kafka”, based on his likings of Kafka’s works, is seeking answers to certain important aspects of his life. Does he find those answers at that library? That is hard to ascertain. What he does find is a painting of a boy on a beach, and a song which had been a huge hit in an era gone by. The song’s title? Kafka on the shore. What does this painting and the song have to do with this 15 year old is left to you, the by-now-completely-hooked reader to figure out.
The other story is of Nakata, a 60+ years old man who has little or almost nil intellectual ability owing to a freak incident that occurred to him when he was 6 years old. As a child, he was taken to a forest for an outing by his class teacher along with his other fellow mates. A bizzarre incident brought them all down unconscious. People later attributed this incident to probably some warfare experiments, but no one knew for sure. All the kids who were struck down recovered within a couple of hours. However, Nakata took a long time to get back to a normal life. And when he did, he found that he wasn’t able to read or write or assimilate information. However, this one incident gifted him with an ability that no human has – the ability to communicate with cats. Taking on the profession of a finder of lost cats, Nakata stumbles upon an incident that changes his life forever and takes him on a journey which he knows nothing about.
Does Nakata have anything to do with Kafka or his life? Possibly. There are instances where we get to see that both Nakata and Kafka enter the “other” world, a world which borders on the edge of our “known” world. They both move across these realms, and in the process, discover certain hidden meanings of the current world.
The reason I use the word “possibly” in the above paragraphs is that Murakami does not conclusively tell you what exactly is going on. The book is a series of metaphors and riddles that leaves the reader to decipher and understand. Due to this, you may have your own conclusion about things like “the other world”, “death”, “entrance stone” and all the other “concepts” that are deeply touched upon while keeping the page-turning on.
Clearly, this is by far the most difficult book I have had to review so far, primarily because I found it leaving me with many questions and not too many answers. But, that is the beauty of this book. There are enough avenues for us to get our answers and we have been through many such books.
What Kafka on the Shore achieves is that it makes you appreciate questions – a task that cannot be achieved easily.
To sum up in words a book of this infinite stature would be quite a fruitless task. Nevertheless, for the minimalists, this is a book of metaphors and questions. I would highly recommend it, ladies and gentlemen.