The New York Times just announced their top 10 books of 2005. We’re delighted to see our favorite author, Haruki Murakami make the list. Read Robert Lanham’s review of the book, which appeared in Nylon, afte the jump. And feel free to add your own selections in comments.
KAFKA ON THE SHORE
By Haruki Murakami.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.
This graceful and dreamily cerebral novel, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, tells two stories – that of a boy fleeing an Oedipal prophecy, and that of a witless old man who can talk to cats – and is the work of a powerfully confident writer.
By Zadie Smith.
Penguin Press, $25.95.
In her vibrant new book, a cultural-politics novel set in a place like Harvard, the author of ”White Teeth” brings everything to the table: a crisp intellect, a lovely wit and enormous sympathy for the men, women and children who populate her story.
By Curtis Sittenfeld.
Random House, $21.95. Paper, $13.95.
This calm and memorably incisive first novel, about a scholarship girl who heads east to attend an elite prep school, casts an unshakable spell and has plenty to say about class, sex and character.
By Ian McEwan.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26.
As bracing and as carefully constructed as anything McEwan has written, this astringent novel traces a day in the life of an English neurosurgeon who comes face to face with senseless violence.
By Mary Gaitskill.
Pantheon Books, $23.
This mesmerizingly dark novel from the author of ”Bad Behavior” and ”Two Girls, Fat and Thin” is narrated by a former Paris model who is now sick and poor; her ruminations on beauty and cruelty have clarity and an uncanny bite.
THE ASSASSINS’ GATE
America in Iraq
By George Packer.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.
A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground.
An American Master
By Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $35.
A sweeping biography, impressively researched and absorbingly written, of the charismatic immigrant who stood at the vortex of mid-20th-century American art.
THE LOST PAINTING
By Jonathan Harr.
Random House, $24.95.
This gripping narrative, populated by a beguiling cast of scholars, historians, art restorers and aging nobles, records the search for Caravaggio’s ”Taking of Christ,” painted in 1602 and rediscovered in 1990.
A History of Europe Since 1945
By Tony Judt.
The Penguin Press, $39.95.
Judt’s massive, learned, brilliantly detailed account of Europe’s recovery from the wreckage of World War II presents a whole continent in panorama even as it sets off detonations of insight on almost every page.
THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING
By Joan Didion.
Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95.
A prose master’s harrowing yet exhilarating memoir of a year riven by sudden death (her husband’s) and mortal illness (their only child’s)
Murakami on the Shore
It’s fitting that Kyoto-born author, Haruki Murakami, would have two distinct public identities. After all, the characters inhabiting his genre-bending novels routinely live mysterious parallel existences.
Murakami is a best-selling celebrity in Asia. He’s also routinely panned by Japanese critics uncomfortable with the success of his metaphysical mysteries, not to mention his protagonists’ fascination with Western pop culture.
In America, critics have compared Murakami to Pynchon, Hemingway, and Hammett. Despite meager sales, locating a bookstore where his masterpiece The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle isn’t a Staff Pick would be a daunting task. He has what every author dreams of; critical and popular success, only on two separate shores.
His latest, Kafka on the Shore (translated by Philip Gabriel) is Murakami’s most heartbreaking novel to date. It’s also his weirdest. Populated by talking cats, Hegel-quoting prostitutes, and a strange dude who calls himself Colonel Sanders, the novel follows parallel plot lines involving a 15-year-old runaway and an elderly man who’s one part Forrest Gump, one part Buddha. As I said, it’s weird. Thankfully, part of Murakami’s charm is his ability to make the fantastic seem normal. Real.
Structurally, the book is reminiscent of his double-plotted detective spoof, Hard-Boiled Wonderland. Nevertheless, Kafka is more intimately linked to Underground, Murakami’s nonfiction examination of evil via the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway.
An ambitious and moving novel, Kafka on the Shore is also deeply flawed, often slipping into head-scratching allegory and failing to tie together disjointed pieces. That said, Murakami (and his fans) seem forgiving, if not inspired by the humanity that resides in imperfections. In a revealing chunk of dialogue about a Schubert sonata, Murakami writes “works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason — or at least they appeal to certain types of people.”
–Robert Lanham from Nylon