Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

 

details
Title: Kafka on the Shore.
Writer(s): Haruki Murakami.
Translator(s): Philip Gabriel.
Publisher: Vintage International.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: August 2015 (first published 2002).
Pages: 467.
Genre(s): Magical Realism.
ISBN13:  9781400079278.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.

thoughts

Fantasy and science-fiction have always been my source for escapism with writers able to build worlds and universes with incredible detail to the extent that they bring them to life. While the final product seems effortless in its ability to vividly conjure the landscape, the lifeforms and the interactions, that penmanship merits a standing ovation when you’re ultimately fully engulfed in a world that seems plausible to your imagination. There remains, however, one genre that I had yet to explore and understand how it works and it is magical realism. Often described as a setting that is ultra-realistic that suddenly sees elements of the mystical unknown invade its territory, this genre remained a mystery to my eyes to this day. Thanks to the contemporary Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, known for having written Norwegian Woods, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84, I have finally dipped my toe in one of the finest pieces of magical realism with Kafka on the Shore. With this novel, Haruki Murakami does the impossible as he tackles countless themes through a surreal dual narrative that simultaneously feels accessible and abstract to the reader.

What is Kafka on the Shore about? The story follows two distinct characters as their stories alternate and evolves with hints of overlap that suggest intertwined fates. The story hence follows a teenage boy who goes by the name of Kafka Tamura who has fled his home on a search for his long-missing mother and sister only to find himself mixed up in a complicated oedipal prophecy. It also follows the blinded adventure of Nakata, an aging old man who was struck by an affliction at a young age that turned him from a child-prodigy into an innocent simpleton. However, his quest will lead him into accomplishing incredible deeds that his gut tells him is necessary and inevitable for him to feel whole again. Where the lives of Kafka and Nakata connect remains a mystery throughout the story as their end goals are both nebulous and intangible.

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If there’s one thing that should be kept in mind while reading Kafka on the Shore, it is its lack of guidance. While it is incredibly accessible and easy to get hooked to the story that unfolds, the characters are all influenced by actions and events that are often beyond their control. Ideas of faith, destiny, and prophecy are recurrent within the narrative and quintessential to understanding the author’s desire to keep things out of the reach of rationality while still completely dipped within absurdity. In fact, the story finds comfort within concepts that are mainly of the field of psychology whilst englobing them within a paradigm of mythology. There’s no denying that a lot of Kafka on the Shore is grounded in reality but the author’s ability to infuse abstract concepts that are usually much harder to explain and understand easily gives this story the pure components needed for magical realism and all this without ever being completely blunt and explicit about them.

I found a lot of pleasure in trying to solve the enigmas that Haruki Murakami loved to sprinkle throughout this story. While anything was possible, there always felt like there was a grander scheme at play, until you reach the ending and understand that every reader’s experience will be unique. What I also loved about this innocent story of purpose and identity is the author’s desire to tackle taboo themes in order to understand the concepts of life, love, and death. His use of bizarre characters and their firm conviction of the importance of these concepts makes their quest for answers even more compelling and intriguing. The interlaced narratives also made for an addictive experience where the need for development was excruciating but there’s a lesson that you will undoubtedly learn from Kafka on the Shore and that is that there are more questions than answers that you’ll get from all this but that is just how life goes.

Kafka on the Shore is a story wrapped in absurdity and existentialism where its dreamlike escapade as an epitome of magical realism brings its characters to challenge their destiny and find their purpose in life.


EXHIBITA

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Thank you to Caroline for the phenomenal chapter-by-chapter read-along! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner! 😍

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26 comments

  • Hmmm. Fascinating. Haruki Murakami is an author I’ve always wanted to tackle. I haven’t even thought about it though because I understand his work is so out there. I like the idea of a story twining a young boy and an old man who at some point had become a simpleton. That is really a fascinating contrast to play with! And magical realism is such a fascinating genre. I’ve only read a handful so far but it really enlivens contemporary set reads. One day I will get to a Murakami … I just hope it doesn’t kill me!! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • His work is definitely out there. I didn’t really know till I started reading this too! But I won’t lie that his grasp on magical realism is incredible. I do hope you’ll be able to endure the absurdity! 😀

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    • I’ve heard of Exit West, and if I stand correct, it’s pretty short too! I’d definitely give it a try someday. But man… Murakami is in a league of his own in regards to magical realism though hahah

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  • a chapter by chapter read along eh? Glad that worked out for you.

    I was all set to give this 5stars when I read it, until I hit the graphic incest scenes. I made it through the rest of the book but that really tanked the book for me. It also destroyed any interest I had in more Murakami. From your tags this looks like it was your first Murakami on the blog. Have you read any of his other stuff before and do you plan to read any more?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The chapter by chapter read-along was only possible because she’s my real-life girlfriend and we could discuss about every chapter whenever we had read them hahah I wouldn’t use such a structure for any other read-along.

      Oh man!!!! I swear, it was already tough reading about the kid’s fascination for his own junk throughout the book and things got even more tougher when the taboo parts appeared… This is indeed my first Murakami and I do want to give some of his other popular work a shot before quitting too. For example, 1Q84 sounds intriguing and I’m curious to find out its reference to 1984.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, that makes sense. Somethings just can’t happen online.

        I think IQ84 was my first Murakami and I don’t remember any incest in it. Still has enough sexual stuff that it made me leery and further works by him just confirmed he’s not for me, not matter the subject matter. It did lead me to some other Japanese classics though, so that was good.

        Liked by 1 person

  • I really enjoyed reading this. I am a high school teacher and we just wrapped up a big unit on Kafka. I’ve always heard of this book, but I didn’t know what it was about and I was wondering if I should read it before next year. I will, just because it sounds like a great book (and I enjoyed Wind-Up Bird). Out of curiosity, is there any big connection to Kafka the writer or his work at all?

    Again, great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate that, Jeff! I think there’s a lot to appreciate in the writing style and the abstract concepts explored in this story. It’s odd yet so addictive. I think the only connection to the author is in the “style” of writing. It was more like a homage rather than an analytical reference, I believe. Murakami also references a lot of classical music/composers in his story and apparently its out of a real-life love for them! Thank you again for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  • I have only recently discovered Murakami for myself- I read the Norwegian Wood- and I know it won’t be my last Murakami… Brilliant review, Lashaan… I have not been one to dive into magical realism at free will but with Murakami as my guide, I think I’ll do just fine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • This is probably the book that I have not read yet heard and read the most about! Lol. Outstanding review Lashaan. You may just cause me to finally pick this one up after all.
    Magical Realism is such a hit or miss for me. Some books really grab my attention and make me think about almost everything and yet others simply leave me irritated. 🙈😀 Souds like you definitely enjoyed this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen 1Q84 a lot more myself but Murakami’s name has definitely been everywhere. I’m glad to have finally given one of his books a shot as it turned out to be quite the ride. I can assure you that if you expect something that “makes sense”, this will irritate you hahahaha

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha. That was what happened the first time I tried reading a Japanese book. Cannot remember the author at the moment but he’s in the same vein as Murakami. I read a book of his short stories and was going crazy! That warning about not ‘making sense’ would have helped them!!!

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  • Yay, I finally read your review!! 😍 That was an amazing experience for me to rediscover the book and to learn your thoughts about it too! Thank you so much for sharing it with me 😊 It stays one of my favourite books despite the few things you mentioned hahaha 😘 Amazing review, I truly enjoyed reading it!

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  • Just now I’ve got the book from Amazon. I bought it to give a try for my next semester’s project since I am a literature student. Thank you for the post. This will help me.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Wow so well written. I loved Kafka on the shore especially the part here Kafka spends his time in library was very relaxing for me…I am reading men without women and it has got me hooked as well…thank god for authors like murakami…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the kind words! There were so many wonderful scenes that were very calming throughout the story. I loved the detail Murakami puts into every little mundane action, like cleaning or reading. I hope you have a good time with Men Without Women. I can’t wait to try my next Murakami myself! Such unique stuff.

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