Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I wrote this review before finding out about the earthquake and tsumani that struck Japan.  I thought about not posting it, but decided to go ahead.  For information about what is happening in Japan, and to offer help, visit this link. (Thanks, Google)

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

Vintage, New York, 2006

I own this one.  Another book read for the TBR Dare.

I’ve been aware of and curious about  Haruki Murakami for a long time.  I tried reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle a few years ago and just could not get into it.  I found Kafka on the Shore much more accessible.

The novel revolves around the journeys of two main characters.  It follows them as they are unknowingly drawn together.  They never meet, but their lives connect through actions that are surreal and dreamlike.

Kafka Tamura, “the toughest fifteen-year old in the world”, leaves home to escape a curse or maybe to find his mother and sister.  He is well prepared but has no idea where he is heading until looking  at a map  he feels himself drawn to a particular place.   Eventually he ends up at a private library and developes relationships with the two people who run the place.

At the same time Nakata, a man who suffered a strange accident during the war that left him unable to read or write and with no memory of his past.  Nakata leads a quiet life and has the ability to talk to cats.  I found him the most intriguing and most likable character in this strange novel.

Nakata never went into these conversations with cats expecting to be able to easily communicate everything.  You have to expect a few problems when cats and humans try to speak to each other.  And there is anotherfactor to consider: Nakata’s own basic problems with talking – not just with cats, but also with people.  His easy conversation with Otsuka the previous week was more the exception than the rule, for invariably getting across even a simple massage took a great deal of effort.  On bad days it was more like two people on opposite shores of a canal yelling to each other on a windy day.  And today was one of those days.  From page 76.

In what seems an incident of mind control, Nakata finds himself drawn into an act of violence and must leave his home.  He also finds himself drawn to a particular place and eventually ends up at the same private library.

After ghostly appearances, fish and leeches falling from the sky,  possible incest real and imagined, and a journey into a dark wood, Kafka Tamura finds himself returning to his home to pick up his life again, but I found I didn’t really care what happens to him.

I admit Murakami is a fine writer.  There are many beautiful passages in Kafka on the Shore, but by the end of it I really questioned why I read it.  There is a great mix of philosophy, classical music, literature and mythology woven into the story but none of that made it real for me.  I guess this is considered  magical realism, a style of writing I usually love, but for me it has to have some warmth behind it, something real and human to hold it together.  Sadly, for me, I did not find what I needed in this novel, it seemed to fall to pieces in my hands.  I do not know if I will try another book by Haruki Murakami.

Other Reviews:

chasing bawa

In Spring it is the Dawn

The Reading Life

Things Mean A Lot


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, InTranslation, Review

16 responses to “Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

  1. I so love this novel, I’ve read (and reviewed it) twice. I didn’t always feel that way about Murakami, having a difficult time understanding his style, until I decided to abandon complete understanding and just go for the experience. I’ve read that he considers himself to resemble Nakata most, and I can see that: a wise, and gentle, man. There are so many images with so much meaning for me, but perhaps that’s my own interpretation. Please don’t give up on Haruki, though; you might like After Dark or his short story collections.

    • I wondered if I was trying too hard to make sense of it all but it wasn’t the “not making sense” parts that distanced me from this novel. Maybe my timing was all wrong. Reading that he considers himself to resemble Nakata makes me want to read more, I will not give up but will put some distance between Kafka and the next book I read.

  2. Here’s the link to my latest review in case you’re interested. ;)


  3. I get what you mean about the lack of warmth, Gavin. This was my first Murakami too and when I began to read it, I felt the coldness. Gradually, though, I began to connect with Kafka. His sadness spoke to me. I’m sorry Murakami didn’t quite hit the mark for you but at least now you can say why. :)

  4. The only thing I’ve read by Murakami is his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is really really good. I have Kafka and Wind Up Bird on my shelves, but have yet to read them. I tried one of his collection of short stories on audio, and I just couldn’t get it. It left me confused, and I chalked it up to audio. I know he is considered brilliant and a little “out there” and I will try him at some point. I think actually I am a little intimidated.

    • Don’t be intimidated Sandy! I think my timing was all wrong for this one. I just couldn’t connect with it.I will try Murakami again, maybe try his memoir.

  5. This does sound a bit like Sputnki Sweetheart which I just reviewed. I can see how some people do not like it. I connected with the sadness but I think I understand when you say “cold”. For me this has nothing to do with magic realism at all. It is rather surreal at times absurd. Closer to Science Fiction actually. I found the mix of genres, allusions fascinating but it is hard to be moved when you are constantly challenged intellecutally.

    • You are right, it is very surreal. I didn’t feel intellectually challenged, just very distanced from the story and most of the characters. Other comments have me rethinking Murakami. I will try reading him again.

  6. The great thing about Murakami is that all of his books are very different. So if you don’t like one then you may well love another. I loved Kafka, but I found Norwegian Wood to be a bit too normal. Perhaps you’d like that one more?

    • Jackie – I don’t mind abnormal, in fact I enjoy it, but I just didn’t click with Kafka. I will try Murakami again, maybe some short stories. Thanks for your comment!

  7. This is one of the feqw by him I ve not read ,plan to this year hopefully great review Gavin ,all the best stu

  8. I want to try some Murakami but this may not be the book for me. I think I’ll try some of his short stories. Thanks for the great review!

  9. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t quite work for you, Gavin! Murakami is, to me, the only author who can get away with this kind of vagueness and lack of concrete answers. Instead of feeling frustrating, I just accept it and enjoy the ride. I’m not sure why, but it might have to do with the fact that I’ve come to expect it of him.

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