I am being perfectly frank when I say I haven't read a book as strangely wonderful as Haruki Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore" in a very long time. Murakami has become well known for a kind of "cool surrealism" (Zalewski) that encircles the reader in a complex dream world. With every turning page the possibilities offered by time and consciousness expand as Murakami blends elements of Japanese folk tales, Greek myths, surrealist aesthetics, classical music, and Murakami's own intensely philosophical narrative style.
"Kafka on the Shore" is a particularly ambitious tale, weaving together the story of Kafka, a young teenage boy running from his own Oedipal prophecy, and Nakata, an old man who suffers from a mental disorder inflicted in his early childhood. As their stories progress, the seemingly impossible blooms around them: fish rain from the sky, humans speak with cats, spiritual concepts take on the physical bodies of characters from commercial advertisements, and souls leave their respective bodies to commit transgressive acts.
The book is dense, complex to the point that Murakami's publishers launched a website shortly after publication as a way for readers to submit questions to the author personally as to how to understand the novel. Several themes are clear: the redemptive power of music, the potent and painful bonds of family, the influence of the past on the present. And yet the novel manages to complicate even these, turning them every so often so that "boundary line[s]" begin to "waver," "metaphors transform," and we are left confused, with no "center... to hold on to" (Murakami). Instead, as Murakami himself has said, "'Kafka on the Shore' contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead... these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape... To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution" (Murakami).
Despite its intricacy, or perhaps because of it, "Kafka on the Shore" is no less than entrancing. Reading it is a true experience, one in which you find yourself enveloped in a spiritual, philosophical, and psychological state of un-knowing. Led to question the nature of time, self-awareness, and the existence and limits of reality, this book seeks to bend you, to allow your mind to live in dreams. Finally, when you reach the end of the journey, having come through the labyrinthine entanglement that is this novel, you find yourself in a moment of complete release, as if you were standing on the "edge... of a brand-new world" (Murakami).