Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore (海辺のカフカ Umibe no Kafuka?) is a 2002 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
With Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami gives us a novel every bit as ambitious and expansive as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which has been acclaimed both here and around the world for its uncommon ambition and achievement, and whose still-growing popularity suggests that it will be read and admired for decades to come.
This magnificent new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour de force of metaphysical reality, it is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle–yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.
Extravagant in its accomplishment, Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s truly great storytellers at the height of his powers.
The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen–it’s page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore — the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply.
Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be “the world¹s toughest fifteen-year-old.” He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days–continuing his impressive self-education–and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters.
To say that the fantastic elements of Kafka On The Shore are complicated and never fully resolved is not to suggest that the novel fails. Although it may not live up to Murakami’s masterful The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nakata and Kafka’s fates keep the reader enthralled to the final pages, and few will complain about the loose threads at the end. –Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Previous books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood have established Murakami as a true original, a fearless writer possessed of a wildly uninhibited imagination and a legion of fiercely devoted fans. In this latest addition to the author’s incomparable oeuvre, 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from home, both to escape his father’s oedipal prophecy and to find his long-lost mother and sister. As Kafka flees, so too does Nakata, an elderly simpleton whose quiet life has been upset by a gruesome murder. (A wonderfully endearing character, Nakata has never recovered from the effects of a mysterious World War II incident that left him unable to read or comprehend much, but did give him the power to speak with cats.) What follows is a kind of double odyssey, as Kafka and Nakata are drawn inexorably along their separate but somehow linked paths, groping to understand the roles fate has in store for them. Murakami likes to blur the boundary between the real and the surreal—we are treated to such oddities as fish raining from the sky; a forest-dwelling pair of Imperial Army soldiers who haven’t aged since WWII; and a hilarious cameo by fried chicken king Colonel Sanders—but he also writes touchingly about love, loneliness and friendship. Occasionally, the writing drifts too far into metaphysical musings—mind-bending talk of parallel worlds, events occurring outside of time—and things swirl a bit at the end as the author tries, perhaps too hard, to make sense of things. But by this point, his readers, like his characters, will go just about anywhere Murakami wants them to, whether they “get” it or not.
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Review ByC. H. Osborneon
I guess from other reviews that I’m not the typical reader of this sort of book – some of the other reviews go way over my head, which might suggest that the book did, too. Unlike many readers, I’d never heard of this author, nor have I studied philosophy or metaphysics, nor did I appreciate any of the clever references to other works which I gather are in the book. So my review is based on the book alone without any external context or any expectations of this author at all. I picked the book up more or less at random from a public library shelf because it looked interesting.
The first half of the book had me sitting up reading in the early hours of the morning, it was that good. I’d never read anything quite like it and was fascinated to see where the story was going to go. I appreciated the book’s readability too, with the author conveying complex ideas without getting bogged down in complex language. Some of the reviews I’ve read subsequently are less readable than the book itself, so don’t be put off by thinking you need to be an intellectual to read it.
Unfortunately I felt that after the first half of the book, the sense of wonder began to fade and instead of being content to be caught up in the plot I was starting to wonder where it was going to go and how long it was going to take to get there. To be honest I hung in there for the last quarter mainly because I didn’t want to abandon the book having come this far. It’s not that the writing deteriorated or that the storyline wasn’t still interesting, more that the characters weren’t developing any further and it looked like they weren’t going to. The plot just played itself out and I lost that “Wow, I can’t wait to see what happens next” feeling.
Nevertheless, it’s unlike anything else I’ve read and I did enjoy reading it. On the most basic level it’s a fantasy which requires that you suspend your ideas about the nature of reality and, like one of the main characters, just accept what’s going on without making judgements and perhaps without trying to understand at all. I can’t say that it was an entirely satisfying read from cover to cover, but there were moments in which I was totally entranced. I will probably read more from this author, especially if I find that reality is getting a bit too heavy for me and I need a break.
By the way, cat lovers may need to be warned that there is one particularly unpleasant scene; I’m not entirely convinced that it was necessary and it is very disturbing.
About the Author
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages, and the most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul.