Written by Haruki Murakami; Narrated by Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur
Reason for Reading: In order to increase awareness of speculative fiction authors-of-color for A More Diverse Universe blog tour, I have read and reviewed Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, which is Japanese magical realism / surrealism. This is one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and it won “best novel” for the World Fantasy Award in 2006.
Kafka on the Shore follows two seemingly unrelated characters whose stories collide in surreality. The first character is a 15-year-old runaway boy who has renamed himself Kafka Tamura. Kafka runs away from his father for reasons that slowly reveal themselves as the plot thickens. He ends up in an obscure library, where he must overcome a dark curse. The second character is Nakata, an old man who suffered an injury as a child and lives as on a stipend for the mentally disabled. Nakata may not be very smart, but he can talk to cats, and he has an uncanny ability to accept surreal events at face value, thus providing a unique perspective to the strange plot twists. Kafka on the Shore highlights the extreme effects alienation can have on a person’s psyche. It had some VERY dark undercurrents (and even one scene of brutality that was quite shocking). It was a fascinating story, but after thinking about it for several days, I’m still unable to figure out quite what it meant. Perhaps it was only an expression of dark loneliness and nothing more? Whether I’m missing the deeper meaning or not, I greatly enjoyed reading my first Murakami book, and look forward to reading many more of these fascinating works.
Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1949 to parents who taught Japanese literature. Murakami was greatly influenced by Western culture. His “modernist” books invoke an interesting mixture of classical music, Western literature, and Japanese culture. Like many surreal / modernist writers, his novels depict alienation, loneliness, and trauma.
It’s interesting that I followed up The Blind Owl with Kafka on the Shore. Both are Asian surrealism (which I haven’t read too very much of) and both have explicit use of the Oedipus complex. Is the Oedipus complex a common characteristic of surreal literature? Or a common characteristic of Asian modernist fiction? Or maybe the Oedipus complex is a defining characteristic of alienated characters? Maybe it was just a coincidence. I guess I’ll see as I read more of these types of books. 🙂 I have decided to include Kafka on the Shore in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII challenge because of the unexpected dark undercurrents.
13 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami”
Thanks for this great review. I tried to read this when it first came out, and couldn't really get into it, then my daughter “borrowed” it and I never saw it again. Your review has made me want to finish Kafka on the Shore now.
Now I'm really curious about this book. Great review.
I've wanted to read this one. I bought a Murakami I haven't read yet, because he seems like an interesting writer.
I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was really well done (multiple narrators, I see, looking it up.) I listened to the end a couple of times, but still didn't quite get it, but the book created a very memorable atmosphere of strangeness and, as you say, loneliness.
This is one of his better books, and I enjoyed it. Still have not made the commitment to read 1q84, though.
Thanks for your comments everyone!
Alex: My own feeling is that this book is better read slowly instead of gobbled up quickly. I didn't have that luxury since I was working on a deadline, but I think it's well worth picking up again!
Vasilly: Thanks! It's certainly one of his better known…
Liviania: You should try it out. 🙂 I'll definitely read another of his books…though I don't know if it will be soon. I think I can only handle so much surreality at one time. 🙂
Laurie: The narrators did a fantastic job, didn't they? There was only one moment when I chuckled about the multiple narrators…one of the side characters was usually read by Kafka's narrator, but there was a scene where he was read by Nakata's narrator and it struck me as funny that his voice had changed. Silly, I know.
Fay: I'll read 1Q84 at some point. But it's a really, really long book!
Thanks for your review. This is the only Murakami fiction I have been able to read all the way through. I did enjoy “Underground” and really need to try another of his novels.
I read this last year and was initially left very confused. I kept thinking about it for days and it didn't make any more sense. I began to wonder if I was trying to read too much into it and if there really was nothing to dwell on, as many readers seem to suggest.
Gavin: I haven't even heard of “Underground,” but it's good to know that you enjoyed it. I'll keep it in mind when I look at his other books.
Athira: Yeah, it leaves you with the feeling that it has deep meaning, doesn't it? It certainly represents the darkness of alienation, which is enough meaning for one book, but….
I've never read Murakami, but I have a feeling all of his books would leave me scratching my head afterward 😉 Glad you enjoyed it, regardless!
Aarti: You wouldn't be alone. I imagine most people are left scratching their heads while reading “modernist” and “post-modernist” literature. I suspect that's the point. 😉
He can talk to cats?! There are mystical cats in 1Q84 too! (I listened to it as an audiobook earlier this year, I'm not sure if I would've picked up the actual book as it seems that much more intimidating in paged-format). Thanks for reminding me that I should read more of his work!
Buried in Print: Hmmm. That's interesting. Maybe Murakami has a thing for mystical cats! I want to read 1Q84, but it's sooooo long that I need to work my way up to it. I'll probably go the audiobook route too.