KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Alfred A. Knopf, division of Random House), 436 pages, $35.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Don't be discouraged if you experience some bewilderment while reading Kafka On The Shore. You wouldn't want to miss an extraordinary journey into the dynamic imagination of this acclaimed Japanese writer.
Haruki Murakami's narrative alternates between two main characters: Kafka Tamura, a 15-year-old runaway who escapes to the city of Takamatsu in order to sever all ties to his past, and Nakata, an elderly simpleton who can communicate with cats and prophesy unusual phenomena like schools of fish falling from the sky.
The old man's and the teenager's fates are linked in a labyrinthine way that only begins to unfurl after the man who provokes Nakata to murder him turns out to be Kafka's father.
The past is a dark and lonely place for Kafka, whose mother and sister abandoned him to his father when he was still a child. He blacks out when confronted with unpleasant memories. Recurring nighttime visions of his mother spark Oedipal fantasies that help to compensate for his feelings of rejection and longing.
Kafka ultimately returns home and appears to be in greater control of his own destiny. We're left to ponder whether he ever physically left Tokyo or if the story is a vivid tour inside the adolescent's fragile psyche.
Murakami has crafted a novel that combines textured storytelling and metaphorical complexity, a surreal journey in which the natural and spiritual worlds overlap. Along the way, he proffers the notion that humankind is guided by forces more powerful than we imagine.
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