When I read the summary of this book, I thought that it would be weird. Nothing prepared me though for this bizarre journey it turned out to be. Kafka on the Shore begun as a coming-of-age novel, but by the end of it I was not actually convinced that it was.
On one side, Kafka Tamura is a fifteen-year-old who runs away from his home and thus from his fate, as he believes. On the other, Nakata is a man in his late sixties who can't read or write, but can talk to cats. Both of their lives are bound to intervene, as the events that occur seem more and more predestined. The final act is the one that can restore the balance in the heroes' lives.
The story in Kafka on the Shore, at least in the beginning, is nothing out of the ordinary. A teenager, who has no mother, runs away from home because he cannot go on living with his father. So he plans it very carefully and leaves the day of his fifteenth birthday. A few blocks away from him lives Nakata, who with his special ability to talk with cats, he helps to find lost ones. But as the story slowly progresses, both of the protagonists find themselves into complicated dilemmas, especially Kafka, who has a tendency to overthink things.
There is a definite analogy of this story to the ancient greek tragedy. Indeed, the book focuses on the theme that man cannot choose his fate. Just like Oedipus the King, Kafka is prophesied (or cursed as he considers himself) that he will kill his father and be with his mother and sister. Along the way, he meets both a young and an older woman and he believes that they are his sister and his mother, but metaphorically. In fact, most of Kafka's theories are based on metaphors but does this fact make them truth? In dreams begin responsibilities, is a quote by Yeats that the young hero often repeats but are dreams sufficient enough to become reality?
There is a great variety of characters in this novel. Kafka is a very troubled youth, who has various issues. This journey is for him a way to realise and come to terms with them. Nakata has a really lovable way of looking to the world. Because he is simple he cannot think of abstract terms, time is very relative to him and his way of talking is unique. But the characters I loved the most are the ones that helped the main protagonists, Oshima and Hoshino. They couldn't be more different than those two are, one is an intellectual library attendant and the other is a truck driver that feels the need to help the old man without an apparent reason. Apart from them there are also Sakura and Miss Saeki and cameos by Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders.
Kafka on the Shore was a weird and a little disappointing read for me. It took me almost half of the book to start to connect with the characters, and near the end I often felt the urge to skip the chapters concerning Kafka, because I was more interested in Nakata and Hoshino. But I have to admit that this book is the one I took the most notes from lately and I'm quite sure that it will continue to torment me for a long time. For all these reasons, I would recommend Kafka on the Shore to all those who like demanding reads and don't really mind the general bizarreness of it. I wouldn't recommend it though if you haven't read any other work by Haruki Murakami before, it might seem a little overwhelming.
So, my advice is...