This Murakami book was charming, compelling, surreal, unputdownable. The characters were interesting, the detailed descriptions created a wonderful atmosphere, and the ending wasn’t done in a trite way, but pleasantly and realistic, with plenty of loose ends, which felt right to our readers, more realistic and subtle. We appreciated that Murakami is awlays interested in food, and writes in loving detail about it. We discussed the unpleasant bits – a boy who cuts the heads of cats, urgh; the Americanisms in the translation (“Jeez, Louise!”) – but didn’t have much worse to say about the book for it. Some of us started reading it with low expectations, and were pleasantly surprised. The books atmosphere was very meditative and like sitting in a Japanese Zen garden. The surrealism (talking to cats, UFOs) didn’t detract from the novel, as Murakami has the ability to render it so realistically, charmingly, and make it so naturally part of the story, that it enhances the message /the plot, without distorting it. It seems one of this author’s great gifts to be able to integrate magic and surrealism without grating on the reader. People were amazed by the incredible kindness and caring of strangers in Japan, and contrasted it with the harsh embarrassment felt by families towards their own outcasts. We also appreciated how the main character, despite being underage, seems to be treated with the kind of respect by the people he meets that grants him his autonomous life choices, he isn’t questioned on where he’s going or if he belongs to anyone. We talked about the character of Crow, and whether he functions as an imaginary talking buddy to Kafka, or if he’s a symbol of a schizophrenic alter ego, or quite who he really symbolizes. He seems to disappear when other people are with Kafka, so the group members thought of him as a shadow image or just an inventive inner reflection. Overall, the group was left with the impression that anything can happen in a Murakami novel, and found this partivular one “bizarrely charming”!