Kafka is a Tokyo teenager, who runs away from his home after his father tells him he is destined to murder his father and sleep with his mother and sister. (And you thought the sex talk with your parents was uncomfortable.) Kafka flees to a historic rural library, where he befriends a transgender librarian and talks to the ghosts of the living. Meanwhile, a man dressed as the Johnnie Walker logo murders neighborhood cats, and Colonel Sanders appears as a helpful spirit world pimp to arrange a night of passion between a truck driver and a philosophy major. In his latest book Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami continues to write magical realism for our media immersed reality--Marquez by way of High Fidelity--and includes an appropriately abundant number of cultural references: Prince's Little Red Corvette, Plato's Symposium, Coltrane, Radiohead, Truffaut's 400 Blows, and the millennium-old Japanese novel Tale of Genji all make repeated appearances. The characters also have a bizarre tendency to point out the novel's symbols and metaphors and expose them for what they are. Yes, Kafka is one of those biggish, kind of important seeming foreign books, but don't be afraid. You're not going to find yourself stranded 200 pages in and totally bored. The sex scenes are pretty steamy and it's made up of short chapters with cliffhanger endings.
Murakami has become one of the most widely read international authors. In his stories there is often no mention of location or nationality outside of a universally familiar capitalist techno-pop-cultural Everywhere. In Japan, where his books sell in the millions, Murakami is a non-conformist icon to those who aspire to something other than a company job and adherence to rigid social structures. Kafka praises independence in unusual forms. Characters take on responsibility while avoiding blind obedience. A man senses that destiny wants him to call in sick to work for two weeks. WWII soldiers escape into the woods rather than fight.
Murakami's evades rational cause and effect. His plots hinge on coincidence or the supernatural, leaving them teetering on the edge of feeling arbitrary, but Kafka's surreal story succeeds in abandoning the rules of our world in order to obey an internal emotional logic of its own.