Although it’s a bit early—it’s never really too early—I just finished a banned book. One of the main reasons I do annual book challenges is to help keep myself well rounded. The categories often include books I might not otherwise read, although banned books are among those toward which I gravitate. Lists of banned books are quite long, and so the choices are many. I read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore for this particular category this time around. As the name Kafka in the title implies, there will be some surrealism here. It was banned, as many books are, because of the sexual elements. Anyone who made it through their teenage years without having struggled with that, however, is truly fiction.
Kafka is, in this instance, a fifteen-year-old Japanese boy running away from home. On his journey, interlaced with that of an older, disabled man, he begins to discover what it is to grow up. A number of unexpected things happen along the way, and pretty soon you’re not able to tell which world you’re really in. The story refuses to be tied down to the ordinary. The writing draws you in, however, and reminds the reader that being a teenager is indeed a liminal state. Almost larval, to use a Kafka metaphor. And yes, the metaphor is extremely heavy here. There’s no denying two worlds bleed into each other as the story progresses. Becoming an adult, it seems, involves having to make difficult choices.
Woven in with the base story is the Oedipus myth. American cultural figures also appear. Questions are raised but never really answered. I’m not sure that I was fully ready for the mind-bending nature of the narrative. Especially in these days when it’s considered okay, with a badly distorted moral compass, to hate those who are different, it’s important to read books like this. There are characters you simply can’t figure out. There are situations that seem unlikely, but that match some of the inherent strangeness of life itself. I’m trying hard not to give away spoilers here, but this is a profound book. I can’t tell if it was written for teenage readers or not—there’s clearly a lot of life experience behind it, and we were all teens at one time. It was banned for being honest about sexuality, but perhaps, as is the case with most, if not all banned books, the real problem is that it’s simply too honest about being human.