Saturday, May 31, 2008

'Kafka on the Shore'

by Haruki Murakami
Fiction, 2002 (Japan), 2005 (English translation)
Vintage UK, trade pb, 505 p.
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
WINNER of the World Fantasy Award, 2006
WINNER of the Franz Kafka Prize, 2006
Kafka on the Shore follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophecy. The ageing Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his simple life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle.
At once a classic tale of quest, Kafka on the Shore is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is a bewitching and wildly inventive novel from a master stylist.
I can’t begin to fully understand what it all means but it was a very fun ride all the same. I was immediately drawn in and as the strands slowly started to come together I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. And what happened next was never predictable, as I’ve come to expect from Murakami. This book had some other standard Murakami fare: cats, the importance of shadows, quirky characters, and a blurring between reality and fantasy, which seems to reflect Murakami’s thoughts on writing:
“For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life. It’s also a way of descending deep into my own consciousness. So while I see it as dreamlike, it’s not fantasy. For me the dreamlike is very real.”
His simple prose makes it highly readable and even though some things are never fully explained and remain unclear at the end of the novel, it’s an enjoyable, compelling read. One that certainly deserves a second reading someday. Murakami himself had this to say when asked the meaning of the book:

"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."
Excerpts from the book, an interview with Murakami about Kafka on the Shore and information on his other works can be found on this Haruki Murakami author site.

My Rating: 4.5/5
(#23 for 2008, Book Awards Challenge #9, Once Upon a Time II Challenge #4, 1% Well-Read Challenge #1, Herding Cats Challenge #1)

Also reviewed at:
My Own Little Reading Room
things mean a lot
Tip of the Iceberg
Dolce Bellezza
Trish's Reading Nook
Have you read and reviewed this title too? Let me know and I'll include a link to your review here.


  1. "I can’t begin to fully understand what it all means but it was a very fun ride all the same."

    That sumps up my feelings on this book.

  2. It was with great eagerness that I read your review of this one, Nat. A friend of mine has warned me about the ending. She refuses to tell me more than that though--saying when I read it, I have to explain it to her.

  3. Great review! I still need to read this Murakami novel. I just posted a review of After Dark and added a link to your review of Kafka on the Shore. I decided to add any Murakami reviews rather than just those for After Dark. I didn't see a review of After Dark on your site, so let me know if there is one and I just missed it.

  4. Murakami can be rather baffling but in a way that makes you think, "Good grief, this guy is brilliant." I love that. Someday I'll finish The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It's sticking with me so thoroughly that I'm not worried that I'll forget everything if I don't pick it back up for another month.

    You have to love that cover with the kitty, too, don't you? The American version is not so cute, as I recall.

  5. Nymeth- That pretty much sums up my feelings on all his stuff. :)

    Literary Feline- Was this the first book by Murakami that your friend read? He's not the type of author who provides a clear ending. I admit that the first couple of times I tried to read him I focused on understanding it and was left unsatisfied at the end. Now I've learned to enjoy his stories without worrying what they mean and just take from them what I will. And he does tell a great story! :)

    Terri B.-Thanks. I haven't read After Dark yet but I bought it last month so hopefully I'll get to it sometime this year.

    Nancy- Baffling but brilliant sounds about right. Parts of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle have still stuck with me and I read that one a few years ago now!
    Yes I do prefer the UK cover. The back has the other half of the black cat. :)

  6. What is the importance of shadows?

    I loved reading Murakami's thoughts on writing...what an interesting man!

    A friend of mine has a habit of giving me a Murakami book for my birthday...wonder if she'll get this one this year!

  7. Janet- I suppose I should have said the consequence of having a shadow lighter than everyone else's (and in 'Hard-boilded Wonderland and the End of the World', the importance of staying connected to your shadow!)

  8. Yep, this will probably have to be my next Murakami. Love him!

  9. Andi- My next Murakami will probably be After Dark. :)

  10. I really need to summon up my courage and read some of this author's work. I've heard so many good things and yet I often look at it and think it might not be what I am in the mood to read. With my recent enjoyment of Paul Auster I think I have realized just how fun these 'challenging' authors can be.

  11. Carl- I really think you might enjoy Murakami, especially after your recent appreciation for Auster. I think I'd suggest Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or this one. They're my favourites of what I've read of his so far.

  12. Great review! This is on my 1001 list as well, and I can't wait to read it. :)

  13. I've only read a couple of Murakami and this was one of them. I haven't been disappointed so far. I've read A Wild Sheep Chase and this one. What should I read next? I thought I had read more than that, but upon thinking back, realize I've only read two of them. What do you recommend?

  14. jessi- It was a great read. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    unfinishedperson- I'd suggest Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or if you're feeling ambitious, because it's a chunkster, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle or you could try some of his short stories.
    I haven't read A Wild Sheep Chase yet but plan to work my way through all of his stuff eventually.

  15. You are right ... Murakami is not predictable!

    I linked to your review here.

  16. Terri B. - Not predictable at all, but that's part of the fun! :)


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