Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Fans of Murakami know by now that many of his books are essentially the same book. They’re magical realism hero’s journeys, involve metaphors, involve a young man having a physical relationship with an older woman, play classical music sometimes as a plot point, and possibly involve cats. These specific themes, as well as a few more like baseball, pop up all over his library of works. However, Murakami is such a good writer that they somehow don’t all blend together.
Kafka On the Shore involves all of these themes and states upfront that it is a metaphysical metaphor. He does not take himself or his works seriously and the reader is better for it. This allows us to give in to whatever wackiness shows up throughout an otherwise stoic story.
The Kafka in this novel is a 15 year old boy who has adopted that name and run away from home. He’s been planning his escape for years and is finally ready to leave his father’s care. His mother and sister abandoned them long ago and it has left him with a sense of longing he can’t reckon with.
He was given an Oedipal curse and was doomed to sleep with his mother and sister. Clearly, he has very conflicting feelings on this. He doesn’t necessarily want to do that, but since he doesn’t truly know who they are he worries it will happen regardless. Any woman he meets could be one of them.
In addition to this curse he carries an inner voice that he calls the boy named Crow. The boy named Crow gives him advice throughout the story but it largely is just his brain yelling over his heart.
The story of Kafka is parallel to the story of Nakata. His story starts with the account of a teacher whose class all collapsed and went unconscious while hunting mushrooms one day. One boy took much longer than the others to wake up. When he did he was not the same anymore. He had no memories, could not read or write, and suffered from, as he calls it, being dumb.
He also can now talk to cats. Nakata, now an older man, has half a shadow and can talk to cats. He’s a very kind man who has simple needs and keeps to himself until the neighborhood cats start being killed. He must face this cat killer and put himself in more danger than he’s ever experienced before.
Kafka is on his journey trying to find purpose after running away and Nakata is on a mission. The story alternates between them until their stories intertwine and become dependant on one another. It’s fairly predictable how their stories will come together but that isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t a mystery novel it’s just the story of how these two characters get to where they’re going.
I must point out that the two perspectives are not confusing. I’ve read several books lately that fail to accomplish this task. Other writers fail in giving the two protagonists different voices and instead rely on chapter headings to distinguish them. Murakami simply puts Kafka’s chapters in first person and Nakata’s in second, he refers to himself in third though. This simple tweak makes it very easy for readers to know which part of the book they’re in. Also, the characters are just different enough to warrant telling from both of their perspectives in the first place.
Kafka on the Shore is titled as such based on a song that comes into play in the book. A character that Kafka becomes involved with had one hit song of that title and it changed the direction of her life entirely.
The novel is a coming of age story with a lot of the metaphysical thrown in. There are fantasy elements but it’s all grounded in traditional Murakami fashion. These events are not strange, they’re just the way of this world.
Any fans of Murakami will enjoy Kafka on the Shore and feel comfort in the familiarity. Any new readers will be enthralled by his beautiful style and masterful storytelling. Make time for this novel and many more of his.
5/5 cats 🐈🐈🐈🐈🐈
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No. Prior to the novel there was no hit song of that name. Since then people have made their own interpretations of the song as well as made playlists of all the music in the book but it is not a “real” song.
Published in 2002
Kind of. (SPOILER AHEAD!)
There is a character in the novel whose gender is not traditionally male or female. He identifies as male but is intersex. This character does bring up interesting discussion points of gender vs sex and how people perceive the male/female dichotomy.