Book Review – Kafka on The Shore by Haruki Murakami

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Kafka on the Shore, published in 2002, which is the successor of Wind up bird Chronicle from the same author, Haruki Murakami, went under the knife of criticism by three different types of reviewers: Smitten devotees who would name their child after Haruki, critical admirers and people who read Murakami as being the famous Japanese novelist of this generation.

The plot has nothing hair-raising; in fact it falls flat during the climax-approach. Only a bonehead would lose sight of the loose climax of the novel as compared to the other masterpieces from the same author. The novel criss-crosses a thread of questions but never answers, a die-hard reader too wouldn’t nail the answers as there is no clockwork pattern by Murakami. Through the prism of two issues, incest and Oedipal love, we look at this novel but neither have we comprehended if Sakura was Kafka’s real sister or Miss Saeki’s real mother. It leaves the reader so confused that he doesn’t even question Murakami’s stand to never disclose Kafka’s real name throughout the novel.

While two strands lock horns, the plot unfolds pretty slowly. Also, it failed me to digest Oshima and Miss. Saeki’s mature behaviour towards Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home. The story thrives around Kafka Tamura, who escapes the house of his sculptor father (poses as Jack Daniel later) who kills cats to make flute out of their souls. Kafka wafts in the provincial city Takamatsu after days and finds a job in a library as rescued by Miss. Saeki and the cross-gender librarian Oshima from his despair. On the other side, there is a second tale of war torn Shikoku mountains whose crowd glimpsed an UFO (which had no post clarifications by the author, where it came from, how it looked, how it affected, but just the UFO) only to lose consciousness for hours in a row. Only a boy survived the shock, Nakata, who after recovering from coma discovered he could talk to the cats, hence chose a profession of a household feline finder which got him to meet Kafka’s father, the cat assassin. “Kill me or the cats get it”. Nakata kills him eventually.

Meanwhile in Shikoku, Kafka falls in love with the 15-year-old ghost of Miss Saeki and falls in an affair head-on with the real Miss Saeki who happens to be of his mother’s age (perhaps his real mother, never clarified by the author). Kafka, as to dodge off the investigation of his father’s death, travels to the earth in Oshima’s mid forest mountain hut, and halfway through his stride amid the forest, he enters a semi-real hinterland. Then there is Nakata, who struck by a guilt of committing a murder (of Jack Daniel, Kafka’s father) makes a headway to Takamatsu, Shikoku, with the help of a drop-out lorry driver Hoshino, hence the two strands make a dovetail.

The metaphorical nuances and the obtrusive magic realism in Murakami’s novels make those a worth-read. Here, there is an attentive veil upon the last few chapters of the novel. It leaves the reader keeps guessing and forgets to show the right lines. I would point out a few examples which weaken the otherwise intriguing novel. You will never comprehend what purpose the UFO served in the story flow, the spectral village too has no sincere role to play, and the mythic concept is also shady. You will never realise why Kafka had to meet Sakura and later not realise she was his biological sister, same applies to Miss. Saeki. Most importantly, was the guy named Crow Kafka’s super ego? These un-answered lot leads to a complex and unconceivable climax.

The reader under an impression of a lustful sex book buys it, but the writer’s pen might have been bribed by his own unfulfilled sexual desires in the teenage years. The useless imageries deter the organic story flow and make the characters fall prey to the under treatment of the myths and imageries. From every angle, the novel looks weak and doesn’t stir any sympathies for the characters. But what stands out is the inventive and captivating treatment attempted by Murakami. I am saving the respect for his next.

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