Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami, Alfred A Knopf, 2005, 467 pp, (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Japan 2002)
Summary from Goodreads: Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle - yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.
My Review: I am no longer a Murakami virgin. He has had his way with me, it was painless, and I am more than satisfied while being left wanting more.
I had mistakenly thought it would be a challenging read. Instead it was smooth and moved along like a bullet train. Though the novel is set in 21st century Japan, somehow having read The Makioka Sisters just a couple weeks earlier, I felt oriented in the country. Also the story opens with an incident that happened during WWII so at first it almost felt like I was reading a sequel.
I loved the David Mitchell-style way that the story jumped back and forth in time and slowly revealed the connections between the characters.
I loved the ghost story atmosphere, the references to music and literature both Japanese and American, but most of all I loved the characters, even the insane artist dad.
Kafka himself is one of the greatest characters I have come across in all my years of reading. Just to prove that he is an evolved human male, Murakami also created several awesome and believable female characters. He takes the motherless boy trope to new heights.
And yes, it is a metaphysical, magical realism, philosophical novel at the same time.
Since all I can do is gush, I will end here.
(Kafka on the Shore is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)