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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

A Magical Break From The Real

Traversing the journey from child- to adulthood remains, arguably, the most common theme among past and present fiction, and has contributed to the canon of American literature such greats as Catcher in the Rye. While timeless in nature, and explored to depths by generations of authors, you might never read a version that addresses the matter quite like Haruki Murakami's latest book, Kafka on the Shore.

Translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, Murakami's tale exists within a setting that swaps social norms for universal taboos with the noble intention to create a series of metaphors depicting a young boy's journey to manhood. All the while, Gabriel's translation retains Murakami's strong poetic grace while following protagonist, Kafka Timura on his colorful path to self-reliance.

Timura's journey is plagued with surprising twists that provide him with the power of omniscience and sends him into the beds of kin, creating a distinct hero melded of others but not to be wholly found in any text. Along with Timura, each of the unique characters in Murakami's jungle carries along his own frustrations, yet all remain connected, much like a family, through a mystical channel opened decades before their encounter with one another. The mysteries surrounding their connection serve as the unneeded, though not out of place, suspenseful element dominating the first three quarters of the book. Once exposed, the disparate elements come together under a sort of Shakespearean framework to forge completion.

Here, these classic themes mingle with Murakami's cast of colorful yet odd characters (who establish a sometimes overworked use of symbolism) in seaside Japan. This tale lives in the realm of magical realism, where by chapter three the reader grows accustomed to abnormal occurrences as the natural way. Murakami seems to use this style as a license for including off the wall elements including universal taboos, the range of which is vast and reminiscent of Classical Greek drama. This magical, and inherently confusing, essence permeates all relationships and most situations, leaving the reader at an initial, but temporary, loss when mentally piecing together the web that remains at the heart of understanding the grand allegory.

Within this portal of mysticism, Murakami commands a blend of folklore and classical philosophy to openly reveal meaning behind the metaphors he so effortlessly creates. The abundance of such references has the tendency to grow trite, at times sounding more like shout-outs than significant truths within the greater story. This overuse stands out as perhaps Murakami's only shortcoming, but on the positive side provides quite an impromptu education in the humanities.

Oddities aside, Kafka on the Shore inhibits a unique niche while employing a style so unique it deserves a read, if only to experience the work of one of Japan's finest authors. Those readers looking for a magical break from the real need to look no further than Murakami's wholesome book with its occasional elements of kinkiness and the surreal.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
January 18, 2005
ISBN: 1-4000-4366-2