It happened again. I closed another one of Haruki Murakami’s books, leaving the world of UFOs, talking cats, and patricides in a trance. Though, to be honest, I was a little unsatisfied with the loose ending, though that’s more likely a function of my personal preference for a tight, happy finish than it was a bad ending. It was Kafka on the Shore this time. Published in 2002, the novel ranked among The New York Times' “The 10 Best Books of 2005.” And rightfully so.
Set in Japan, the book alternates between two intertwined storylines. The first centers around a young teenage boy named Kafka who has run away from home and the second, on a man who has an uncanny ability to talk to cats (though arguably no other ability). I’m normally no fan of fantasy; two chapters in, I’m tempted to put down the book—even ask for a refund, maybe. But as always, Murakami’s mastery comes from his ability to make the reader ask why. Why is Kafka running away? Is this some twisted parental abuse story or just another teenager acting out?
As the book continues, the questions keep mounting. One after the murder of Johnnie Walker, so–named after the famous Scottish whisky brand. Another after the appearance of Colonel Sanders (yes, the founder of KFC). Taken altogether, the buildup of the plotline seems absurd. Not just in the beginning, but all the way through till the end. In my head, I’m only thinking, "What exactly goes on in Murakami’s head?"
But for some unknown reason, I can’t shake off that warm, fuzzy feeling as I read. It’s definitely not a feeling that comes every four times I read a year. Maybe it’s that the characters were so consistently genuine from the beginning until the end that it makes me want to believe in the goodness of real people. What is certain is that the elements of magical realism, suspense, and humor combined with the purity and candidness of the characters are a marked departure from typical plotlines. The protagonists never had heartbreaking downfalls followed by redemption and eventual victory.
The underlying theme of music also washes a sort of calm over me as I read. As a truck driver searches for a recording of Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio,” I share his joy as he listens to the steady classical notes. Similarly, when Kafka plays an old song recording, I hear the scratches of vinyl, its beautiful melody forming a dance of its own. I have no idea what it’s supposed to sound like and no conceivable example of what to build my imagination from, but maybe, that was the point.
At the core of it, there’s really no dialectical message to be found (or at least, that I know of). Unlike many of the books we read today (aka the books we’re forced to read for class), this one just allows you to enjoy it. You can just sit down on a beanbag and read without the looming feeling of having to analyze the book later for a class. In other words, this novel is a break. whether that be a break from studying for the day or a break from the endless padfolios, it is a break I highly recommend that you take.