After reading this book I had to think about it for a little while to decide how I felt. There were parts that made me feel as if I were there or that...moreAfter reading this book I had to think about it for a little while to decide how I felt. There were parts that made me feel as if I were there or that I wanted to be there. Those feelings mostly came from the description of the private library in Takamatsu that one of two of the main characters ends up at.
This book was full of mystery and as is the Japanese way, you really do not get answers to a lot of these mystery’s. The first main character is a 15 year old boy, calling himself Kafka, who runs away from home. The reader never learns his true name. And we never really learn why he decides to run away from home. When he was really young his mother left with his sister and he never saw them again. At the most you get the feeling his father shows no interests in Kafka’s life. These events cause him to become very self reliant. He goes to the gym to build muscle to appear older so that when he runs away he won’t be caught immediately and returned home. He shows an incredible amount of self discipline, to the point of training his stomach to be satisfied with small amounts of food so that the money he stole from his father before running away isn’t used up too quickly. Kafka never really has detailed plan of what he is going to do. He feels really drawn to a private library in Takamatsu and takes a bus to get there.
The other main character is Nakata. When he was younger he was transferred to a school in the country while WW2 was going on. While on a class trip into the woods near the school to hunt for mushrooms, all of the children mysteriously collapse. All except Nakata wake within a few hours. Nakata is taken to a hospital where eventually he awakens but is never the same. Once a bright child at the top of his class, he can no longer read or write. It is never explained exactly what happens, but the author makes it a point for it to be known it was not caused by anything natural or human. Now an adult, Nakata can talk to cats. Since he is considered mentally handicapped, he lives off of a subsidy and also gets some money on the side by finding lost cats for neighbors.
The chapters alternate between these two characters with the exception of a couple chapters in the beginning from the teacher who was there during the class outing and some letters she wrote explaining that day. You slowly get the feeling that Kafka and Nakata are connected somehow. Although their age differs greatly they seem to be opposites but each completing what the other is lacking. Kafka feels lonely and abandoned, he is very self sufficient, he is intelligent and loves to read. He reveals that his father told him that one day he will sleep with his mother and his sister and there is nothing he can do to stop it. Kafka then running away seems to feel as if he is running away from his destiny.
Nakata on the other hand periodically states he doesn’t have many feelings and doesn’t particularly feel close to any people, cannot live without assistance, and cannot read although he says his wishes he was able to walk into any library and read whatever book he wants. When he leaves town he feels like is being pushed to complete a task and instead of running away from his destiny like Kafka, he runs towards it. I am not going to get into anymore depth with those characters and what they each encounter on their individual paths in this book. We know somehow these two characters are linked. On the surface you could say this was a cliché coming of age story of a boy, but it really is much more. Go into it knowing that not everything will be explained and it is up to the reader to use the clues and come to their own conclusions. I can say as far as interesting characters, I found Oshima, a 21-year-old, gay transgender man that works at the library and befriend Kafka, the most interesting character in the story. Not just because he is a man, born a woman and still biologically a woman, but identifies as a man attracted to men. Oshima is very intelligent. You learn he is also a hemophiliac so has to be cautious in whatever he does. Oshima’s brother later tells Kafka that Oshima does not normally like anyone.
So many events take place in this novel and at the end you sit there trying to connect the dots and see the whole picture. To figure out exactly how these characters were connected and what certain things meant. This is the second novel of his I have read and has made me a Haruki Murakami fan and I cannot wait to start another. (less)