Kafka on the Shore (海辺のカフカ, Umibe no Kafuka) by Haruki Murakami

I read this book a few months ago after having it on my shelf for quite some time.  I had previously read Norwegian Wood, which I enjoyed, but people kept telling me it was different than all of Murakami’s other books so I expected Kafka on the Shore to be different – and it certainly was.  While Norwegian Wood is a fairly “conventional” novel in theme and structure, Kafka on the Shore is much more disconnected from reality.  I enjoyed both novels, but they have a decidedly different feel.  Norwegian Wood is really a sentimental novel, while Kafka on the Shore is a surreal adventure story.  Both are in many ways coming of age stories, and both get into the psyche of a young man, however Kafka on the Shore‘s disconnect from reality make it quite compelling.  Kafka also gets into the head of an elderly and somewhat simple man with an unusual talent.  Surprisingly, I could relate and connect with these characters in spite of Murakami’s bending of reality.  I could see how the surreal nature of the book might be alienating to those who don’t like their novels with such a heaping of the bizarre, but I found it captivating (and in parts disturbing).

Wikipedia’s plot summary is accurate, but to really feel the essence of this novel you must read it yourself.

From Wikipedia (don’t worry, no spoilers):

Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative runs back and forth between the two, taking up each plotline in alternating chapters.

The odd chapters tell the 15 year old Kafka’s story as he runs away from his father’s house to escape an Oedipal curse and to embark upon a quest to find his mother and sister. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a quiet, private library in Takamatsu, run by the distant and aloof Miss Saeki and the intelligent but more welcoming Oshima. There he spends his days reading the unabridged Richard Francis Burton translation of A Thousand and One Nights and the collected works of Natsume Sōseki until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with a brutal murder.

The even chapters tell Nakata’s story. Due to his uncanny abilities, he has found part-time work in his old age as a finder of lost cats[…]. The case of one particular lost cat puts him on a path that ultimately takes him far away from his home, ending up on the road for the first time in his life. He befriends a truck-driver named Hoshino. Hoshino takes him on as a passenger in his truck and soon becomes very attached to the old man.

Nakata and Kafka are on a collision course throughout the novel, but their convergence takes place as much on a metaphysical plane as it does in reality and, in fact, that can be said of the novel itself. Due to the Oedipal theme running through much of the novel, Kafka on the Shore has been called a modern Greek tragedy.

Further reading:

Kafka on the Shore – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami – Bahia Portfolio

2 Responses to “Kafka on the Shore (海辺のカフカ, Umibe no Kafuka) by Haruki Murakami”
  1. Ariel says:

    I read Kafka on the Shore quite a few years ago, and honestly didn’t remember the book. I loved both The Windup Bird Chronicles (more surreal, similar to Kafka on the Shore) and Norwegian Wood, but haven’t read much Murakami in the last three or four years.

  2. bahia says:

    If you have a chance you should definitely ready Kafka on the Shore again. I think for me The Windup Bird Chronicles will be my next one.

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