"Kafka on the Shore" by Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” is the story of two characters, who we follow in alternating chapters: a 15-year-old boy who calls himself Kafka Tamuta, and who decides to run away from home on his birthday; and a man in his sixties, Nakata. Nakata experienced a very strange accident during WW2, when he was only 9 years old, after which he lost his memory, the ability to read and write, and became, in his own words, “dumb”. He gained, however, some very unusual abilities in return.

This story begins realistically enough: a boy decides to run away from home, and so he takes the night bus from Tokyo to Takamatsu, a small town where he has no friends or relatives, and where, thus, he is not likely to be looked for. Soon enough, though, the reader is confronted with a series of surreal events: cats speak, fish and leeches rain down, spirits walk about, prophecies are made, and entrances to other worlds are opened. And there are appearances by popular culture icons like Johnny Walker or Colonel Sanders (the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo guy, in case anyone is wondering).

There was something about this book that reminded me slightly of Neil Gaiman's “American Gods”. The use of these two last figures helped, but there’s something else, something about the mood of the book I cannot quite pinpoint.

As the story advances, a lot of questions are raised, and we realize that there is a connection between the boy Kafka and the man Nakata. However, not all the questions are answered at the end. At some point in the book, one of the characters says:
“I went all over Japan interviewing people who’d survived lightening strikes. It took me a few years. Most of the interviews were pretty interesting. A small publisher put it out, but it barely sold. The book didn’t come to any conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have one. For me, thought, having no conclusion seemed perfectly fine.”
This made me smile, because it so obviously applies to Murakami’s books. Not that they have no resolution, but, like I said, there are many questions that linger. This got me thinking that in a way his books are a little like songs. A song doesn’t necessarily have to make sense – in fact, more often than not, the concept of “sense” doesn’t even apply to music. Its realm is not that of logic. And yet, it still moves us, it still makes us experience a myriad of emotions; it still has power over us. The same can be said, to some extent, of Murakami’s novels. They don’t always make sense, but they still resonate within me. And music is very often mentioned in this book. For an interesting take on the relationship between Murakami and music, read this post by Dark Orpheus.

Books are another thing that is very important in this novel. Kafka is an avid reader, and this drew me to him immediately. There is a delightful library where Kafka ends up working and where many important scenes take place. And there are a lot of books that are mentioned or quoted throughout the story.

A little warning that perhaps not everyone will find relevant – this book contains a very disturbing scene involving cats. I am a cat lover, but more than that, I am a person who is extremely disturbed by any violence towards animals, especially cats. It’s the kind of stuff that haunts me and seriously gives me nightmares. There is a horrifying scene in this book, and I know that the emotional effect it had on me is exactly what Murakami was trying to achieve, but it was still very painful for me to read. It’s a scene I sincerely hope to forget. I’m not saying that this scene should keep anyone from reading the book, but I think it’s good to be prepared for it.

I really liked this book. It had a very unique mood, interesting and memorable characters, and it was a story I responded to emotionally, even if I’m not sure I completely made sense of it. I will certainly be reading more of Murakami’s work in the future.


    I like what you said about Murakami's work and how it relates to music. Considering that he used to run a jazz club, that is very appropriate and I never thought of his work like that before. Thanks.

    You're welcome :) I hadn't thought of that myself until recently, but the more I do, the more I think it makes sense.