four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-KafkaShoreWhen 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from Tokyo to escape his distant father and an oedipal prophecy, he hopes to find his sister, the mother who abandoned him as a child, and his personal destiny. His story runs parallel to that of Nakata, an old man whose bizarre childhood accident left him "dumb" but whose gifts include speaking with animals. Murakami tells their troubled tales in alternating chapters, revealing their connected lives and fates—for Kafka, "a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions." A gruesome murder, a Johnnie Walker apparition, a sardine rainstorm, a Colonel Sanders lookalike, and some other grisly surprises intervene in the lives of these characters. In this tale of friendship, loneliness, and nonconformity, anything can happen.
Knopf. 436 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400043662

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This is at once a coming-of-age novel reminiscent of J.D. Salinger, a metaphysical love story in the tradition of Wuthering Heights and a philosophical and psychological journey that should entice anyone from the layman to the most elite academic. … Not since Steinbeck has any writer managed to lift so much of the human psyche and deposit it in one novel." Anne Jolis

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"... in some respects this book is a primer on existentialism, but in Murakami’s capable hands, weighty philosophical matters are unpretentiously filtered down to a simple, poignant question posed by a boy who was abandoned by his mother, a man-child without moorings, who wonders, ‘All I know is that I’m totally alone. … Is this what it means to be free?’" Julie Wittes Schlack

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Murakami’s main characters always suggest a Westernized sensibility, and Kafka Tamura is no different, with his references to the music of the Beatles and Radiohead, the poetry of W.B. Yeats and Federico García Lorca, the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and the movies of Ingrid Bergman. … a fine place to begin exploring Murakami’s world, which is our own, with a few major surprises." Alan Cheuse

New Yorker 4 of 5 Stars
"… a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender. … But beneath his feverish, symbolically fraught adventures there is a subconscious pull almost equal to the pull of sex and vital growth: that of nothingness, of emptiness, of blissful blankness." John Updike

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s the mindscape that is foreign, one that requires a floating suspension of disbelief to accept. … Murakami is a writer of immense and unexpected imagination, and Kafka on the Shore is a book that is, despite its lack of anchor to conventional reality, a compelling read." Robin Vidimos

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Murakami’s novel, though wearying at times and confusing at others, has the faintly absurd loft of some great festive balloon." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) merges Western culture and Japanese history to paint a surreal portrait of two troubled souls searching for—well, something. With Japan’s wartime history never far in the distance, the author stresses the value of personal freedom and identity in a confused world. And confused it is, with an absurd, anchorless plot "tinted the kandy-colored tangerine-flake of Tom Wolfe’s early psychedelic pieces" (Los Angeles Times). Although Murakami raises serious themes—love, isolation, identity, nonconformity—he has a surprisingly light touch. While most critics felt the journey was important, a few complained that nothing meaningful happened throughout the novel. Kafka’s story was particularly problematic. Perhaps that’s what life is: a series of random connections to which we desperately imbue meaning.