I've recently finished Haruki Murakami's brilliant Kafka on the Shore, and now I've started (and am immensely enjoying) Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
Kafka on the Shore was--and this is stating quite the obvious for those familiar with Murakami's work--quite easy to read, but hard to understand. I think you could read it and interpret it anyway you like, and you'd probably still be right... even if what you think the book means wasn't really what the author had in mind.
My initial exposure to Murakami was through Norwegian Wood, which I liked for its pop culture references, nostalgia and simple storytelling. I then borrowed a copy of The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories, which I first hated, then slowly began to like as I began to understand what Murakami was trying to say (or at least, I like to think I do!). His stories are surreal and often have subtle motifs that, when examined carefully, bring to light much of his characters's personality and the reasons they act the way they do.
The reason I initially hated The Elephant Vanishes was that the first short story was actually the first chapter of the novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and when I had read it, I found myself unsatisfied. I wasn't aware at the time it was merely an excerpt, a first chapter, hence no resolution and no satisfactory conclusion. I've since gone and bought the novel in question. (Can't read it yet though, I've got a few other books in queue.) I'm hoping the novel will end this unsatified feeling I've had since reading The Elephant Vanishes, though I have been warned: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is an immensely depressing book. Apparently, a friend told me, a friend of hers read the book, and subsequently got into such a rut, it changed his life... probably for the worse. But even then, he loves the book! Although, I think, in a love-hate sort of way.
I think I can relate to that. When I had finished reading Norwegian Wood--also quite depressing--I went ahead and broke up with my then-girlfriend. I'm still not sure if I was influenced by the book or not. Could a book have such an impact on our psyche and subtly manipulate our emotions? Or perhaps it was just hormones? (I was young and foolish. Still am, come to think of it.) Regardless of what it was, I like to think the split happened because I had "internalised" some of Murakami.
I hear that Murakami's latest collection of short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, has been translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin. I await eagerly for it to reach these shores. (Kinda funny, don't you think, for the book to leave Japan, arrive in the West, translated into English, then come back to Asia, more specifically, the tiny nation I live in: Malaysia. That's quite a journey!)
The Guardian has one of the short stories, Hanalei Bay, published on its website:
Part 1, Part 2