[BOOK REVIEW]Murakami novel sums 25 years of storytellingHaruki Murakami’s latest effort, “Kafka on the Shore,” doesn’t have much to do with the Czech-born Jewish novelist Franz Kafka. But it is about a 15-year-old boy whose name happens to be Kafka (a Japanese pronunciation of Chinese characters “possible” and “not possible”) and his journey to solve a mystery behind a prophecy.
This stout novel is a summation of this well-received Japanese writer’s 25-year career. Published last year in Japan, the English translation has been available in Seoul bookstores since earlier this year.
Best known for his coming-of-age love story “Norwegian Wood,” Murakami takes his root in American modern literature in the vein of John Updike and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Growing up with the 1960s’ radical student activism while a literature major at Waseda University, he has been a prolific writer, making the most of his unique, humorous, sensitive and imaginative quality.
Murakami arguably shines most in his short stories and essays, yet he has also shown great interest in novels with thick volumes as in “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.” The long-awaited “Kafka” came out seven years after “Wind-up,” and there’s every quintessential element that makes Murakami’s world in it.
Murakami has said that he wanted to write about “not borders but a subtle harmony” regarding “Kafka,” and the novel indeed shows a harmonized integration of his past novels. There are rather offbeat lead characters, a love with an older woman, a sense of mystery and humor, an anxiety of being and death, love for music and art, etc.
Structure-wise, Murakami takes turns in each chapter to tell the stories of different lead characters, which are connected at the end. This sort of architectonic beauty is one stereotypical side of Murakami, as present in his past quality novel “Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.”
In “Kafka,” Murakami uses the latitude of his past style with the longitude of a touch of new styles and topics to weave this ambitious project. The ambition, however, sometimes overshadows trademark charms of the writer.
There are still lines that will remain in readers’ hearts, which are too many to just pick one here, yet the weight of the part about mystery and history makes “Kafka” a bit too much for his aficionados. Reading through the lengthy pages, his enthusiasts keep developing a craving for his bold, fun and cute short essays. But that does not deny the raison d’etre of this novel, which seems to be the writer’s lifelong project to sum up his world of writing.
And Murakami enthusiasts will keep waiting for this Japanese writer who always knows the right words to describe the world.
“Kafka on the Shore”
By Haruki Murakami
Published by Random House
Kyobo price: 32,310 won ($32)
by Chun Su-jin