Kafka on the Shore
As I said before, Kafka on the Shore is a very strange book. It was loaned to me (thrust my way, that is) by a friend singing its praises and saying it was just like an anime.
The backcover reads: Kafka on the Shore tells the adventures (and misadventures) of two strange characters, whose lives, running side by side throughout the novel, will eventually prove to be full of enigmas and mystery. These are Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home at age 15, pursued by the shadow of a dark prophecy that one day was launched by his father, and Nakata, an elderly man who has never recovers from a freak accident he suffered as a young man and who has devoted much of his life to a cause - seeking missing cats.
This oversimplifies a lot.
It is true that these two characters' lives run parallel to each other, almost meeting in the end. But Kafka's journey is not simply that of a runaway kid, he is running away from an Oedipal prophecy, made by his own father (who has quite a few screws loose). He will take refuge in Komura Library, where he meets Oshima with whom he has philosophical and metaphysical conversations about life, literature and music (in fact, these made me want to read more Japanese literature - I've added Akinari Ueda's Tales of Moonlight and Rain to my wishlist, and started Kawabata's Snow Country). Kafka's tale is mostly of coming of age, and becoming strong to be able to survive the world.
Nakata's story, together with the reports of the incident that left him unable to read and write, or learn anything, but with the strange gift of talking to cats, is amusing at first, but growing more deep and poignant as the chapters advance. Nakata is responsible for most of the surreal things happening in the book, although it is not really his fault if it rains fishes, or leeches. I really liked Nakata, and his relationship with all the characters that he meets. He is really a nice old man, who isn't very bright, but is quite happy that way. But what starts with a quest to find a missing kitty, ends up being the journey of his life, setting right what was wrong.
And between these two characters there is Miss Saeki, a connecting point between the stories, a woman for whom time has stopped, in the sense that she stopped living, only being able to exist after the death of her fiancé. She will be important to Kafka, helping him become the “world's toughest 15-year old”, and the ending point of Nakata's quest.
When I finished the book, I wasn't sure I had liked it. I wasn't sure I disliked it either. It's the kind of read that needs digesting, that you can only know how much it touched you when, 6 months later, you still recall the story and the feelings associated with it.
What is great about Kafka on the Shore is that I was there with the characters, in the same places they where, having the same adventures as them. It is not that I loved the book, it wasn't that great, I just didn't want to leave that world. I would love to keep going to Komura Library with Kafka, having lunch and conversations with Oshima, or walk on the forest, with trees looming over me, or even keep going west with Nakata and Hoshino, and talking with cats.
(4/5) - for now, we'll see in 6 months how I'll feel about it