Kafka On The Shore


Title: Kafka On The Shore
Author: Haruki Murakmi
Publisher: Knopf, 2005
Number of pages: 436
Rating: 5 out of 5

I love this book (as you can see from my first review), and every time I read it I love it more.

I’ve been wondering why I love it so much this time around. Is it because I understand it completely? Certainly not. Is it because of the mood? Probably that’s more accurate. But,  it is also a fabulous puzzle…a riddle with no apparent solution…there’s no nifty neat conclusion all tied together with a bow on top.

It’s taken me a long while to appreciate that kind of book. I usually want answers; that undoubtedly comes from being an elementary school teacher for far too long. Now I’m content to suspend my disbelief, go along for the ride, see where Murakami is taking me.

Here he takes me along a journey with a fifteen year old boy who’s named himself Kafka. In a fit of teenage angst, or because of an Oedipal complex, he’s run away from his home and father to an obscure village where he thinks he can escape a prophecy about his mother and sister, a village where he hopes he’ll never be found.

What he does find is a library with a transexual librarian named Oshima, a boss named Miss Sakei (who may be his mother), a character named Johnnie Walker (who may be his father), a girl named Sakura (who may be his sister), and parallel to Kafka’s story is that of Nakata (who may be his missing other half).

It’s a complex world that Murakami creates, one deliberately confusing by his own admission. “Kafka on the shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form of this solution will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”

What may be a bit clearer is that Kafka On The Shore is loaded with themes. There are themes every where you look: popular Japanese culture, magical realism, sexuality, music, World War II, imagination, dreams, prophecy and the power of nature. It’s almost exhausting to see how these tie together, or what kind of solutions Murakami had in mind as he wrote.

Maybe he wanted me to be more concerned with how these themes work for me, the reader,  than how they work for him, the writer.

Here’s how they work for me:

  • Having an 18 year old son, which may be a far cry from 15 on some levels but isn’t really so far in others, I can understand the great emotional turmoil which comes with growing up. There’s so darn much to sort out about one’s self, one’s parents, one’s place in life. I loved reading about Kafka’s journey and his quest. (“Why did my mother abandon me when I was four?” he asks. A question surely worth pondering, in my opinion.)
  • I loved how Nakata brought the truck driver, Hoshina, enlightenment. Here is Nakata, who cannot read and lives on what he calls a sub city (government subsidy) bringing an appreciation of classical music to Hoshina. Hoshina is enraptured by Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, a most beautiful piano concerto, which I had to download on my iPod after listening to it myself.
  • I loved that Kafka retreated to a library when he ran away, and that he found immediate solace and understanding in the people and books there.
  • I loved that Kafka made his way into the deeps of the forest, while the entrance stone which Nakata gave his life to lift was still open, and there found forgiveness for his mother.

If every time through this book lends itself to new insights, and I suspect that strongly to be the case, then this will be just the second time around in a long succession of unveilings to come. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

23 thoughts on “Kafka On The Shore”

  1. This is a great review, Bellezza…and it's convinced me that I really must try Murakami! I will need to be in the right mood/ mind set before attempting it though, since I struggle with magic realism and vague endings. Do you think this would be the best Murakami to start with?


  2. No, JoAnn, I don't think this would be the one you should read first. 😉 I suggest that you start with his latest work from 2007, After Dark. It tells about three characters in Tokyo from midnight until 3:00 a.m. on the same night. It's much shorter, and a bit more concrete, although you will still find some elements of magical realism.I hope that you do pick up a Murakami, and I hope even more that you will join in the Japanese Literature Challenge that I'm hosting this July. This time around I'm giving the option of 1, 2, or 3 books, which should make it more feasible for everyone. It's so exciting to be exposed to the ideas in Japanese fiction/poetry.


  3. I love this book too! Murakami has an amazing imagination. I can see why re-reading this book would give you additional joy, but for some reason I haven't read The Wind up Bird Chronicle yet, so I really must do that first.


  4. Jackie, I brought my collection of Murakami to our book club last night, for discussion of Kafka for which I was the leader. The women asked me, "Have you read all of Murakami's work?" Alas, I've only read three: Kafka On The Shore, After Dark, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. However, like you, I really want to get to The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I think that's one of his most well known books. Let's talk about it when we finish, eh? 🙂


  5. I so liked this book…I like Murakami 😀 glad you to to.Gettin ready to buy my Japanese lit books for the challenge, will give you the titles when I made up my mind.


  6. I look forward to re-reading this someday. I'm like you in that I really, really liked it the first time but couldn't articulate very well "why" I liked it so much. I enjoyed your comments from your second read.


  7. You know, I don't think I've read any Japanese literature. Maybe a small challenge would give me the incentive to start! I'll look into After Dark…thanks, Bellezza!


  8. I've tried two Murakami books and thought they were fantastic. I don't know why I haven't taken the plunge on another yet. Loved your reasons of why the book resonated with you.


  9. Jackie, me too!Madeleine, I can't wait to see what you're going to choose! I'm going to read more Murakami, for sure, but also the Yakuza Moon book in my sidebar and Supermarket. I'm so excited to begin!Terri, the second time through helped clarify a lot of the book for me. Murakami was right when he said he intended the readers to reread it. ;)JoAnn, I encourage you to try After Dark. It's fun and rather fast; a great introduction to Murakami, in my opinion.Iliana, thanks for saying you like my connections. I also enjoy reading a personal touch in bloggers' posts. It's not as removed as a professions review often is.


  10. The more I think about this book, the more I love it. I don't always need neat and tidy endings and there are times when I am annoyed to pieces when I don't get them, but in this case it only added to the allure of the book for me (if such a thing is possible!). I love how you write that we owe it to ourselves to read this book and I couldn't agree with you more. Actually, it is mostly because of you that I read this book. If not for the JLC and your first review, I probably wouldn't have sought it out on my own.Can I keep going? 🙂 I love how you've dissected the things you loved about this books and drawn from those items things that you also love or can relate to. I think that's one of my favorite parts about reading–finding parts of me in the book…even if the themes and ideals seem incredibly foreign. To me, that's the makings of a classic. Ok, ramble done. 😛


  11. I would be curious to know how your book club liked the book. When I recommended it to mine the primary reaction was that it was really strange – not the reaction that I had hoped for. This is my favorite Murakami so far and I agree that a second reading made it even better. I think I will have to try After Dark soon.


  12. Trish, it's taken me until my late forties to give up a neat and tidy ending. But, you just can't look for that in Murakami's work, can you? Once I gave up that expectation (ahem, working on giving up ALL expectations) you can enjoy them so much better. I'm so glad that my review, and the challenge, brought you to this excellent book. Also, NO RAMBLE: what you said was quite significant. I love the personal side to a review to, when I can make connections not only with the book, but with its readers. I love talking books with you, my friend.Moo, I was really, really nervous about how my book club would like this book. When I suggested The Time Traveler's Wife, which I love, not enough of them read it to even be able to hold a discussion. But, I was pleasantly surprised with Kafka. Just as I experienced, reading this book opened a lot of eyes to a new kind of novel: magical realism and symbolism really made for an interesting discussion. Overall, I'd have to say it was well received because it was so new to everyone, there was so much to discuss, and we all had a lot of questions. Probably, we made up too many answers! The next Murakami I'm dying to get to is The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.


  13. Bellezza, I love this book, and I love your review–and the reasons it so compels you. Now I must follow Murakami's decree and re-read it, and you must read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I think you'd like it, and I am really interested in the insights you would offer. Thank you for this!


  14. ds, I have loaned The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to my mother, but as soon as I get it back I'm delving in! I've also ordered Underground, which arrived last Friday, and I'm anxious to start that as well (since it's nonfiction, and I want to see how Murakami writes that genre). In fact, I plan to read all of his work which I've slowly been collecting this year since my Japanese Literature Challenge 2. I will be sure to read Wind-Up Bird, and get a review up, especially as the Japanese Literature Challenge 3 is starting July 30. Please consider joining; I'd find your insights invaluable.


  15. Boy, are you brave. I could NEVER loan anything by Murakami to my mother–way too surreal for her tastes. I would love to join your Japanese Literature Challenge (gulp). Don't foresee any great insights coming from this quarter, but it will surely be a lot of fun. Thank you!


  16. ds, my mother is often the one who has gotten me out of the box…she's very liberal and open minded and ready for adventure. We compliment each other nicely because I'm conservative, sure in my convictions and most comfortable when I'm safe. But, somehow, we've worked out a very strong relationship.Don't be intidmidated by the challenge: what I know about Japanese literature you could put on the head of a pin which is one of the reasons I host it. There's so much to learn and share with one another. Don't worry, you'll see the announcement when it comes around, and I'm thrilled you'll join!!!


  17. Thank you for a fabulous review – personal and insightful. Now I'm thinking I might re-read Kafka as part of JLT3. I already have blind willow, sleeping woman and wind up bird , and Yukio Mishima's forbidden colours on my shelf. I'm relatively new to reading (only in the past 5 years I started to read novels) and when people said what sort of book do you like, I had no idea. Now I'd like to say surreal and fantasy, but it's not a common genre. I have to say that I find it hard to find any friends who have been sucked into Murakami like me, and I'm looking forward to the next challenge to share with like minded readers. I'm not certain yet (maybe I never will be) why I am drawn to the twisted surrealism of these novels, but I think by sharing these personal reviews we do get greater insight into ourselves. Kafka draw me into myself alot, my own youth, relationship with my father, things that haunt me and those that motivate me. I appreciate that challenge, to be real to myself.


  18. Tamara, I don't know how I missed this comment of yours left in June! But, I find it very revelatory of your heart, and coincidentally, mine as well. You said it beautifully when you said that Kafka drew you into your own youth, relationships, motivations and hauntings. Perhaps that's why we (you and I) like him so much.


  19. This was the first Murakami i read & I still have a soft spot for it. It contains (not the write word with Murakami) all those elements the magic-realism, other worldliness that I have come to appreciate the more of his work I read, & that realism that there are no tidy solutions,not everthing comes tied up with a bow, a full stop is not an end its just as likely to be a start.


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