Upon reading the novel Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, a notable Japanese author born in Kyoto in 1949, I was left speechless.
The novel, consistently switching between objective and subjective narration depicts the surreal journey of a 15-year-old boy who goes by the name of Kafka Tamura. After running away from his malignant father, a young Kafka embarks on a quest to find his lost mother and sister. The novel is an elaborate mix of two deeply related but separate stories that are disclosed concurrently, which in the end converge in one place, at one time, unraveling the previously obscure details in a mesmerizing, breathtaking plot. Unlike the earlier works by Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore constantly switches between real life and fantasy; it throws readers off with its unorthodox story-telling and requires considerable attention to detail to fully understand the storyline. From the cat-killing psychopath Johnny Walker to the illiterate Mr. Nakata, who can speak with cats and stones, the novel contains everything needed to throw the readers into Murakami’s “dark place”, a world of chaos and insanity hidden away in his subconsciousness.
Although the story focuses on Kafka’s struggle to become an adult, everything is a metaphor, as repeatedly mentioned in the novel. The author compels us, readers, to seek the ulterior message hidden away in an allegory, that is this story. The novel teaches us the importance of mental toughness (which, according to the author, stems from physical fitness), a crucial quality that saves us from sinking too deep into our own dark place. In this novel, the dark place is a land of fantasies and an apparent utopia, but we must not stay there too long, for there time is frozen (or rather, time does not exist) and our psychological growth into adulthood stagnates together with everything else. But only when we learn to understand, control and overcome the deep, hidden, and often terrifying thoughts in the subconscious realm, can we achieve our ultimate goal in real life - self-actualization in pursuit of true happiness. Murakami is encouraging us to take the good parts of our dark places and not the bad, focusing on reality since, after all, what we do there matters most to us.
All in all, Kafka on the Shore is a fantastic coming-of-age story that stands atop the rest of the contemporary Japanese literature. The novel explores identity and self-discovery, love and insanity, family and relationships, memory and the soul, the overcoming of fear. I highly recommend it, especially for those wishing to understand their hidden desires and to come to terms with their inner conflicts. We all go through a phase of trying to put our feelings into words but giving up because no words seem to describe our bewildered state of mind. This novel may offer some of those words. Following Kafka’s development into the “toughest 15-year-old in the world” may make you more courageous. His train of thought may resonate with your soul as though you are reading a description of yourself. This novel may break the fences that hinder your vision, the shackles that hold your feet against the ground - it may set you free from the whirlpool of indescribable feelings in a turn of a page. So give it a try and see where it takes you.