I was wavering a bit way back when I decided to include the WFA winners, and I'm pretty sure that the inclusion of this book on the list is what decided the matter in the end. Haruki Murakami is a fantastic Japanese writer who creates metaphorical stories about lost souls in the modern world. Some people might compare his work to magical realism, but Murakami's magic is less subtle and often feels more sinister.
Murakami tells two parallel and related stories. The first is that of the fifteen year old Kafka, who runs away from his home and oppressive father in Tokyo and comes to live in a small private reserach library in Takamatsu. He falls in love with the distant librarian Miss Saeki and also grows close to a hermaphrodite named Oshima. In the other story, a mentally handicapped man named Nakata has the ability to talk to cats. He helps people in his neighborhood find lost cats by asking around for them, but one such quest exposes him to a horrific ritual that leads to a murder. Nakata then heads off on a mysterious quest with a curious but decidedly unintellectual truck driver named Hoshino.
There are some very surreal scenes along the way, including an extended sequence with Colonel Sanders as a spirit guide. There are also several pairings and twinnings rich with metaphor (Kafka's lost sister, his father, and the connections between Nakata and Kafka, or Nakata and Miss Saeki) and it all leads to a timeless world on the edge of reality. It's an evocative but highly readable novel that's also an exciting (but perhaps unsolvable) puzzle.