Home > books > “kafka on the shore” by haruki murakami

“kafka on the shore” by haruki murakami

kafka on the shore is a dual narrative dealing primarily with kafka tamura and nakata, two characters who unbeknownst to each other are both on a journey to takamatsu. kakfa is fleeing from his father’s oedipul prophecy (with the modification that he will also sleep with his sister) but he is also (almost contradictingly) searching for his mother and sister who left when he was very young. the other narrative deals with nakata, who after a bizarre childhood accident has been left simple-minded but has gained the ability to speak to cats. as such he finds part-time work in finding lost cats. it is his search for one of these lost cats that eventually puts him onto a mysterious quest. both characters find themselves on an odyssey of sorts whereupon they have strange experiences and meet very interesting characters.

the style is magical realism, but what is interesting is that the fantastical elements of the story never seem overly odd. even when we don’t understand what is happening or why, there is a feeling that all the events are still natural – in fact very natural. there is a reverence for nature that emanates from the novel and a sense that nature is more mysterious, complex and powerful than we often expect.

this book is quite a joy to read – which is in a way unsurprising because there is an element of the book that deals with the joy of reading. kafka loves reading, as does oshima (a friend he meets) and there are moments where they talk about their love for books and the meanings of some books. as its title suggests the novel is full of literary allusions and it is interesting how the characters themselves anaylyse their situations using literature and its quite refreshing how quickly kafka recognises the oedipul nature of his plight. they use literature and philosophy as a means to further understand themselves, their feelings and their fate. for lovers of books these moments have added pleasure because they can relate to kakfa and oshima’s appreciation for books.  

as with his other novels, murakami’s love for music permeates the book and plays a key role. the title is actually the name of a song that is central to the novel, and beethoven, specifically his archduke trio, also features prominently.

when i finished this book i found myself a little confused – i struggled to find its meaning… but then, i can’t say i mind too much. this is one of those novels which you feel is very sincere and is meant to be just so. i couldn’t want it to be any other way. if the meaning wasn’t clear to me then that doesn’t mean it won’t be clear to another person. although, i also ask myself, why should it be clear? must the message of the novel be loud and clear like the moral of a sitcom? murakami has in fact addressed this himself, by saying:

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 this solution takes 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.”

which is as good an explanation regarding the meaning of the novel that i can think of.

ultimately, the enjoyment of the novel lies in the enjoyment of reading it… the experience of it… and the feeling of being immersed in his world.

Categories: books
  1. June 23, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I have this on my Book Awards Reading Challenge list, and now I can’t wait to read it.

    I’ve felt that before when reading Murakami (Sputnik Sweetheart in specific comes to my mind) – that I couldn’t quite make sense of everything that’d happened in the novel, but that it still had a strong emotional effect on me. The non-resolution even added to the final effect.

    This really sounds like my kind of book. Thank you for the wonderful review.

  2. jean pierre
    June 25, 2007 at 8:23 am

    this was the first murakami novel i’d read and i was quite surprised by the elusiveness of the meaning at the end…! i kept thinking about it and wondering if i’d read it right…? i was thinking to myself, was i perhaps expecting something that i shouldn’t have, you know?

    but like you it still had a powerful emotional impact. and it lingered…! it really stayed with me.

    but most of all – and what i really liked about it – is that i so enjoyed reading it. just reading it from day to day was such fun.

    i hope you post your own review once you’ve read it. i’d be very interested to read what you made of it!

  3. June 25, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I have heard this title before but had no idea that this was what the book was about. It sounds really interesting, to say the least. Great review.

  4. Kim
    June 28, 2007 at 7:19 am

    This book sounds very intriguing. I think I may have to second Nymeth and add it to my growing “Book Awards Challenge List”.

    Thanks for the review, very thoughtful 🙂

  5. jean pierre
    June 28, 2007 at 8:26 am


    i look forward to seeing what you thought of it.

  6. June 28, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I read this a while ago, and like you, wasn’t that sure what I was supposed to be thinking by the end. But I still really enjoyed it. I may have to reread it at some point.

  7. jean pierre
    June 28, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    yeah, what murakami says seems to indicate that it needs rereading. but that, of course, is difficult in this day and age…

    still its such a nice book to read, and knowing what happens we might be able to discover something different in it. in fact, i’m sure we’ll discover different things, because some things only make sense much later. it’d be nice to read those bits knowing whats going on.

  8. Jeff S.
    June 29, 2007 at 12:43 am

    Wow! That sounds like a wonderful book. I hadn’t heard of this book before and I appreciate the review. I like the fact that in this day and age you found a book that can be re-read again and again and yet sounds like can be just as satisfying as the first time. My wife and I also have a black cat so I was hooked once I saw the cover and you described the lost cat angle. I plan on picking this up someday. Thanks JP!

  9. jean pierre
    June 29, 2007 at 8:28 am

    i just love that nakata can talk to cats and the way its dealt with. you know – theres nothing fantasy about it. he hasn’t wandered into some kind of alternate world or something… and while i was reading it i didn’t for one second not believe it was happening. very cool.

    isn’t it just a beautiful cover?

  10. Jeff S.
    July 3, 2007 at 1:33 am

    I really love the cover as well.

  11. July 8, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Jean Pierre, I just wanted to tell you I got the book, and I’m going to read it after I finish my current books. Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll be able to discuss it!

  12. jean pierre
    July 8, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    cool! i can’t wait. i’m intrigued to see what you’ll make of it.

  13. Lisa
    April 9, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    I have just finished reading Kafka and though, like you, I had difficulties understanding the ending, I found that the process of reading the book greatly outweighed the ambiguous finale. While i was reading, I loved the way Murakami talked about the little things, the details of living life and it made me take notice of the world around me more. I became much more observant and aware. That alone is worthwhile enough for me.

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