I ordered a copy of 'Kafka on the Shore' as a present for my gloomy boyfriend. I boldly claimed that it was 'one of my faves' without thinking twice about the assertion. Then I began to doubt myself; when I was 15 or 16 'Kafka on the Shore' was my first Murakami and an introduction to the genre of Magic Realism. I fell in love with it in so many ways, I got swept up in the magic and the possibilities it seemed to offer for reading in general. Five years later and I have never re-read a book purely for pleasure and I realised that if Tom decided he did not absolutely love the book I wouldn't be able to defend it (or even remember it particularly clearly). So despite my intention to simply 'read vicariously' through Tom, I fell in to Murakami's trap and began reading it again.
I can't tell you why I have never allowed myself the pleasure of re-reading a book, other than putting it down to the breadth of reading lists and depths of bookshelves. I found it deeply indulgent in more ways than one, but if you are going to add a book to your list of favourites it has to merit the indulgence of time and memory. As I began reading 'Kafka' I instantly realised why I had loved it; Kafka Tamura is a 15 year old boy who runs away from home and finds refuge in a library, the hero I once needed. He is a free spirit who loves reading and is wise beyond his years. As it began raining fish and leeches (details that have never left me) I re-experienced the delight of the first showers of magic upon realism. Kafka on the Shore was exciting for me in the way that books before had never been and began an exploration and love of Magic realism.
It is a strange feeling returning to imagined places. The characters and settings returned to me easily; I followed Nakata with a returning affection, met Oshima as if he was an old friend and entered the Komura memorial library only to find I was satisfying a longing I wasn't aware I had. There was a comforting familiarity in the process of reading which was particularly appropriate to 'Kafka on the Shore' where Murakami describes lovers as pieces of ourselves. Meeting our lovers is like walking in to a familiar room and sadness is a natural part of love in the Murakami-philosophy. As Miss Saeki and Kafka return again and again to the shore, both the painted version and the real place, so I returned again and again with pleasure and with sadness. The boundaries of fiction and my reality became distorted and confused as Kafka struggled to understand the meaning of 'metaphor' and to escape the guilt his dreams brought on.
There is enough to be critical about and there are things I will have to defend. I'm not sure if it is clumsy translation but initially Kafka is a difficult to character to accept, in fact all of the characters can sometimes feel as though they have been given soundbites, or monologues of information that are neither fluent nor convincing. Murakami's use of western and european allusions also seem shallow now that I am old enough to notice and understand them too. But love makes you forgive imperfections.
Something new came too; I remembered how the sex in the book had shocked me once, how I felt about Kafka, how I had identified with his frustrations, but I didn't re-experience these things. Miss Saeki who had once seemed like a secondary character, who I had not understood, made me cry. When I stopped being so critical of the book and settled back in to it, I found a new depth. I found something which shocked and touched me at 20 which had passed me by at 15; it was something I cannot describe or explain at the moment perfectly, it is something about that 'return' which Miss Saeki makes, which I was also making. When I read 'Kafka' again in five years I will come back to tell you what it is. But for now I will just recommend the book, and feel a little surer about that recommendation.