Book Review: ‘Kafka on the Shore’ & ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami
Published in Goa Messenger, March 2010
Pulp fiction, chicklit, thrillers, romance, espionage, horror and an invasion of vampires- do you hear yourself sighing same ol’, same ol’? Perhaps it is time you got yourself some Midwest experimentalism and Latino chutzpah to go with the almost infinite options among well-known international authors who have not quite caught on in the mainstream Indian reading scene.
Haruki Murakami is one such Japanese gem I chanced to discover only recently. Born in 1949, Mr. Murakami writes fiction and non-fiction in Japanese and has had his works translated into more than thirty-four languages. The Guardian acknowledges him as one of the ‘world’s greatest living novelists’, and he is a recipient of the prestigious literary Franz Kafka Prize for his novel Kafka on the Shore.
With riddles that would give the Sphinx competition, Kafka on the Shore makes for a spell-binding read. Murakami’s language and style defies convention and invites you to enter and live in the surreal world of his creation, a world which is the kaleidoscope of the adventures of Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old on a quest to defy his father’s dark prophecy, and the (sixty) Nakata, who tracks lost cats for a living. Joined on the way by various wonderfully developed characters, Kafka on the Shore is a definite page-turner with a highly intricate plot. It poses a more of a challenge to your grey cells than the run-of-the-mill whodunit novels, and yet, Murakami’s satirical yet simple sense of humor will keep you light-hearted and cheery throughout.
Murakami succeeds in interweaving descriptive narrative within the storyline, thus making the most bizarre incidents realistic. His characters have a life of their own and the reader would be struck at how easily one can shift between their various perspectives, for you can’t help but feel strongly for each one of them.
Kafka on the Shore will compel you to hunt for a pencil and parchment to keep by your side when you read, for you wouldn’t want to miss either the clues or a chance to appreciate Murakami’s master craft. Wine would be a perfect match for this addictive brand of magic, and like wine, it only gets better with age. This one is certainly a book for your library, drawing you to read and re-read to solve its mysteries, and then accustoming you to Murakami’s writing to such an extent that you are left thirsting for more.
‘More’ is what After Dark promises, delivers, and how! Set in a time-bound frame reminiscent of Dan Brown’s fast-paced thrillers, After Dark is the chronicle of two seemingly simple young people who miss the last train home. From dusk to dawn, the reader is treated to minute after minute of a sheer roller-coaster ride of puzzlement and dawning comprehension. Once again, Murakami does infinite justice to the minor characters, with all parts synthesizing to form a nocturnal cocoon of sorts.
The author makes it a point to leave a few loose ends fluttering even after the last page has been turned, which is perhaps the essence of his addictive style of story-telling. You wonder what happened to the smuggled Chinese prostitute and the protagonist’s perfectionist sister who has lain in deep, unnatural sleep for more than two months, and with that wonder is coupled a deep sense of admiration of the fact that anything can happen in a Murakami book, for here is an author who defies thinking within the contours of a circle. For come to think of it, isn’t a circle but a curved straight line, and isn’t a line but a series of malleable dots?
Once you have read a Murakami, you will find it hard to forget his worlds, for you would have left a part of yourself there, a la the ever-youthful Peter Pan of your childhood. Murakami marries different genres with alarming ease: everything from mysteries to romance to fright has a place between his covers, forming part of a divine conspiracy with eminent talent at its core.