Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

Posted 24 January, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 39 Comments

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Title: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Haruki Murakami
Date Finished: Jan 22, 2009 #3
Published: 2005 Pages: 467
Rating: 4.5/5

When I first decided to read Kafka on the Shore for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge, I didn’t know anything about Murakami or the book itself. All I knew was that I had seen it around a lot and that I was intimidated by it. Funny how those prejudices form for no apparent reason. Even though I had a few fears or concerns about how the reading was going to go for the book, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this book is to read. Understanding it might be a different thing all together, but I was swept away by the writing.

In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami weaves together the story of Kafka and Nakata. Kafka is a young boy of fifteen who suddenly runs away from home and finds refuge and new friends at a library. He is fighting to prevent his father’s prophesy from coming true–a Oedipal prophesy that Kafka will kill his father and sleep with his mother and sister who abandoned him when he was four. Nataka, an elderly gentleman who lost many of his intellectual capacity during a WWII incident, has the ability to speak with cats and works to find lost cats. One lost cat in particular leads him on a whirlwind scavenger hunt for something, but even Nakata doesn’t know what that something is. Each chapter alternates between Kafka’s and Nakata’s story, and it isn’t clear until well into the story how the two are connected with one another. But unbeknownst to each other, they are both searching for the answers and meaning to the same secret–a secret that will free them both.

What a book! There is so much packed into these 467 pages that I’m sitting here in front of the computer screen drawing a blank one what to write about. Where to start? It is safe to say that all my expectations of this book were fully met and every intimidation I was feeling was a waste of time. True, it took me about two weeks to complete this one (stopping for a shorter read in the middle), but Kafka is at once a poetically written book but it is also incredibly accessible:

“Not just beautiful, though–the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. What I’ve done up till now, what I’m going to do–they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than a passing thought before. Not just stars–how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless. And I know I’ll never outrun that awful feeling” (Kafka narrating, 135).

Murakami gives us so much to think about in this book, and after finishing I still felt like there were so many pieces of the puzzle that needed to be fit together. But despite the philosophy and theory and deep thinking, this book is also a thriller. I found myself holding my breath at some passages, not knowing what was going to happen, having to keep turning the pages to discover the outcome of the latest conflict. Another element I wasn’t expecting in the least, was the magical element. I just found out that this book won the World Fantasy Award a few years back, and I had no idea that I would be encountering magical rocks, strange “concepts” that disguise themselves as pop culture icons, a man who can talk to cats and cats that talk back, fish that rain from the sky–and really that’s just the beginning.

So again, Wow, what a book! I would recommend this book, especially if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary and something that will make you think [a lot]. There is some sexual content in the book–and Kafka is fifteen so his hormones are raging, but I didn’t find it overwhelming or tastelessly done. All in all, this is a book that will stick with me a for a while as I continue to mull everything over to try and fit those pieces together. And I’ll definitely be pursuing more Murakami in the future. Maybe Wind-Up Bird Chronicles?

Others who’ve also read it (let me know if I missed yours!):
Tanabata; Gautami; C.B. James; Charley; Bellezza; Nymeth; Terri B.

The book concludes my 1% Well-Read Challenge and Japanese Literature Challenge. I hope to eventually do a 2008 Challenge wrap-up posts and cheat to include these. It’s just one book, right?? :)

39 Responses to “Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami”

  1. I’ve got to admit, this book (and this author) also intimidates me. Curious – was this originally in English or is it a translation?

  2. Sounds like a great read Trish! I’ll be adding this one to my TBR list. I feel like I’ve read something by this author but I’m not sure what. Hmmm…I’ll have to figure it out or it will bug me :)

  3. *Lezlie – It was very different from what I was expecting, but I think even though it is an unusual book it has wide appeal. I hope you enjoy it!

    *Amanda – I don’t know why I do that to myself! Most times my intimidation ends up being silly. :) Yes, translated. I haven’t quite figured out how to talk about the language in a translated text…?

    *Sam – After Dark is his newest one, but other popular ones are Norweigen Wood and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Sounds familiar? :) Hope you like this one.

    *Bermuda – LOL, glad I’m not alone. Not sure if it is because of the length or because Murakami is Japanese or because the book has won several awards? Anyway, the book is definitely nothing to be scared of.

    *CJ – Yes, read it! I’m loving all of these Japanese discoveries and I’m glad I included this one in the mix. I’ll definitely be searching for more of his works. And thank you thank you for the award. :)

  4. I’m so glad you ended up enjoying it, Trish! I’ve pretty much given up trying to make sense of Murakami’s books, but I love them nonetheless. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is another very weird one :P My favourite of his, though, is Norwegian Wood, and that one is a completely straightforward story.

  5. Well, this is good news! I’m not sure if I will give it a try anytime soon, but it’s good news nonetheless. :)

    (I started reading one of his and set it aside – I didn’t care for it.)

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I don’t think you can go wrong with any book by Murakami! They’re all so magical and wonderful!

  7. For some reason seeing this book around it rather intimidated me, too. Nobody told me there were cats in it! Now I might just be tempted to pick it up.

  8. Hooray for you for finishing it!!! I’m very impressed that you did. Like you, I had the notion of intimidation, but more so after reading it than before. It’s one of the few books that left me with so many questions I know I’ll have to reread it several times (as Murakami himself says he intended). Didn’t you think that Nakata was the boy on the hill who’s teacher slapped him, and was never quite right after that? That’s my thought. As to the fish falling from the sky, and talking cats, I’m not quite sure, but I loved them~this was a book that required the suspension of belief, which is something I’m learning to do now that I’ve delved into Japanese literature. Bravo for your wonderful, wonderful review!

  9. *Diane – Hope you enjoy it as well. It’s definitely a thinker, but worth it.

    *Nymeth – My original rating was a 4.25, but the more I think about this one, the more I like it. I think Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will be my next.

    *Joy – LOL! Do you remember which one it was? This one is definitely a lot weirder than I was expecting, but it was a good read.

    *Michelle – I had no idea until now! And I definitely wasn’t expecting the magical elements in the book–will definitely be searching for more.

    *Jeane – It is only fair for me to warn you that some horrible things happen to cats in the book. :( Luckily the incident is pretty brief, but it is rather haunting. I’ve heard that cats play a big role in some of his other books as well.

    *Bellezza – Yay!! I wish I could have read this one sooner, but I think if I tried to read it in December I would have put it off. And this one could definitely use a second reading–there are so many little pieces that I’m still having trouble fitting together. I do think that Nakata was the little boy whose teacher slapped him. Shortly after that, when the planes flew over, wasn’t he the one who fell into a coma and didn’t wake immediately? I really loved Nakata’s character and wish that he still had some memories of the past. Have you read anything else by Murakami? Any other suggestions for the Japanese 3 challenge?

  10. Hi Trish, I absolutely loved KAFKA ON THE SHORE. I am a fan of Murakami and have other titles sitting here on my night stand.

    Have a wonderful week-end and thank-you for visiting my blog :)

  11. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Good luck with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I started it a few years back but never finished. I hope to pick it up again soon.

  12. *Madeleine – I’m glad you enjoyed it as well! Do you have another by Murakammi that you’d recommend?

    *Charley – Yikes–any reason why it was tough to get into? I’ve heard people say that about Kafka, but I didn’t find it tough to get into at all.

    *Joy – Hmmm…haven’t heard of that one.

    *Mee – did you enjoy it? Thanks for stopping by.

  13. I’m with Nymeth. I don’t try to understand them so much, I just enjoy the ride. I loved Wind-up Bird. I just read After Dark which is a very quick read if you need one. I’m kind of saving the others for now.

  14. Wow! It sounds like this book has a little of everything! I don’t know if I would like to read the parts that you told me about at work though :( I’m curious about the magical elements you mentioned…fish rain, magical rocks, talking cats…very intriguing! I’m glad you found another book that you enjoyed so much!

  15. This is not a book I would normally pick up – especially with the cover that it has, but you make it sound very interesting. I have added it to my wish list.

  16. Trish, I have a huge pile of Murakami just waiting to be read. All I’ve completed to far are: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman; Kafka on The Shore; and After Dark. I’m planning on compiling a list of all everyone’s read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 2so that we might get some ideas for JLC 3. Who knows, these challenges could continue ad infinitum with as many books as there are yet unturned. ;)

  17. Wonderful review, Trish! I agree with you … it was easy to read but more difficult to understand (and worth more than one reading). I love the quote you included. It is passages like this one that keep me coming back for more Murakami. The first Murakami I read was “Norwegian Wood” which is a quite straight-forward story. Then I read “After Dark” which taught me to just follow where Murakami led and not to overthink while reading; “After Dark” being a shorter novel helped to ease me into Murakami!

    I’ve linked to your review over at my place.

  18. *CB – I save books by my favorite authors also. :) I’ve heard so many things about all of his books that I don’t know where to go next–I’m still thinking Wind-Up Bird, though.

    *Laura – I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into with this book–I thought it was going to be fairly straight forward. And yes, even though what I told you was the only cat incident in the book, it was really awful.

    *Alyce – Not the most attractive cover, I admit. Nymeth posted one with a black cat that is much more appealing–maybe the UK version? It’s a strange book but definitely worth the read.

    *Bellezza – I still need to come by the blog and post all of my reviews. I noticed Terri got hers up, though. I think a list would be really great–I know creating my list was a little bit of a chore since I had no experience with Japanese Literature. I’m really happy with all my picks, though, and have some ideas for JLC 3!! Thank you so so much for hosting again. :)

    *Terri – Definitely could use another reading of this one. I’ve also been meaning to go back and read the lyrics for Kafka on the Shore since it seems there were some clues there. I’ve heard really good things about Norwegian Wood, so I’ll definitely have to put that on this list for next year. I added your link as well.

  19. You are amazing to me. There are so many books out there that I need to read but don’t out of pure intimidation. I love your passion for reading and writing.

  20. I’m also intimidated by this one and honestly have no desire to read it, but that passage you quoted really strikes a chord with me. When I first moved to SD I used to get very very sad if we were out in the country where I could see the stars and knew we were the only people around for miles and miles. (There are a lot of stretches like that in South Dakota, nothing at all like it in Alabama which is much more densely populated.) It was not because I was sitting there thinking it sad things, it was because the big open space felt scary and I felt so little and insignificant and alone (even if Mike was with me.) I’ve gotten over it now, but that first year was crazy.

    (sorry, that got long.)

  21. Nice to see that you liked this one too! I read it last year and loved it. I can’t say that I understood all of it, but I don’t think one should think about the meaning of his books too much!

  22. Well, I’ve got that same thoroughly intimidated feeling when it comes to Murakami, and I have no idea where it came from either. Just this feeling that I’m not smart enough to “get” it. I do have The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles on my shelf awaiting me, but every time I think about actually picking it up, I get all sweaty and my heart pounds and I find it hard to breathe. ;) Okay, seriously, you may just have given me the courage to try. Maybe.

  23. I’m curious as to how this book compared to the stories in Mistress Oriku. Did you learn much about Japanese culture or was the book more focused on the main character?

  24. Great review Trish! Looks like another one I need to read. I like books that have so much going on that when you sit down you think that there is just no way to pack it into a review. I just finished one like that too.

  25. *Joanne – Thanks! I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did.

    *Literary Feline – It is definitely more bizarre than I was expecting, but definitely not over the top. Enjoy!

    *Michelle – Ohhhhh, thank you my dear. There are still a ton of books that I avoid because I’m intimidated for one reason or another, but usually once I stop being such a scaredy cat I’m pleasantly surprised.

    *Lisa – Isn’t that a beautiful paragraph? I know just what you mean about the stars and feeling lost underneath them. I felt that way when I lived in small town, Texas–so many stars and nothing else around. We don’t get that here in Dallas.

    *Joanna – Several people have mentioned that they don’t try to understand his books anymore. There are so many things that I didn’t “get” about this book, but I really enjoyed it anyway.

    *Debi – Well, Nymeth has given me permission not to “get” Murakami and any of his books, so that’s good enough for me. :) Pick it up and try the first chapter or so. I can’t speak for Wind-Up Bird, but with this one I knew almost immediately that I was going to like it.

    *Rebecca – Oh thank you!! You are too sweet.

    *Krystal – They are very different books. Oriku was written several years ago (actually not sure when) and focuses more on the Japanese arts. This one was definitely set in Japan, but it was focused more on the characters and the events rather than culture. For reading pleasure, I definitely liked this one better.

    *Dar – I like books that make you think as well, but it does make writing the review difficult! I can’t wait to see what you just read.

    *Jeane – Only fair to warn you, but the incident is brief at least.

  26. Great review, Trish! I’m so glad you ended up enjoying it. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is another bizarre one, and a chunkster, but one that sticks with you. I read it a few years ago and still have some scenes stuck in my head. Murakami has certainly been getting lots of blogger love lately. :)

  27. I don’t think I’ve read anything by this author. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it, Trish! I’ll have to look out for this! :)

  28. *Tanabata – I have to admit that until a few months ago I was pretty unaware of Murakami. One of the reasons why I love the blogosphere so much–new discoveries! I’ve got Wind-up on my list and hope to pick up a copy soon!

    *Melody – The book is different than anything I could have expected, but I’d recommend it. Not quick quick reading, but it held my interest!