Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

Fifteen year old Kafka Tamura runs away from home. Primarily because he is looking for his mother who left the family and took his younger sister with her when Kafka still was a child. The difficult relationship between him and his father, a well-known sculptor, is another reason for his decision to leave. After his arrival in Takamatsu, south of Tokyo, to where he resorts, Kafka quickly picks up a routine including the daily visit of the Komura Memorial Library where he reads all day long until it closes. Oshima who works there as a library supervisor and an assistant of the librarian Saeki, senses Kafka being in need of a paternal friend and offers him accomodation in the library for some easy help in return.

While he is perfectly content with the situation in the library, the search for his family is turning for Kafka into a mystery without easy answers. In order to find the truths he is looking for, he needs to embark on a journey of identity into the past and in the present – sometimes adjacent presents – with impacts not only on him but on other people as well.

Kafka on the Shore is the second book I read for Dolce Bellezzas Japanese Literature Challenge VI. It was a German translation (Kafka am Strand) which I picked up at my local library. It didn’t bother me because the original is written in Japanese which I couldn’t read anyway – sadly – and furthermore, it seemingly was very adequately translated.

Kafka on the Shore turned out to be the most enchanting book I read for a long time. I loved the magical story and I loved the amiable characters. I fell in love with most of them, except perhaps for Johnny Walker ^^. I admired the quality of each one to take another person the way he or she is, the way they accept other people being different from themselves, their curiosity and open-mindedness. Most of all I fell for the „dream team“ – Nakata and Hoshino. Some dialogues between them made me chuckle on an on. That humour took away the edge resulting from Nakata’s difficult task throughout the story.

The plot bears a lot of mythological traces with references to the stories of Oedipus who killed his father and made love to his mother or Orpheus, who was forbidden to look back when he brought back his wife from the underworld. Then, there were Colonel Sanders and Johnny Walker which I interpreted as the basic concepts of good and evil. The scene in which Nakata meets Johnny Walker really made my stomach turn. I thoroughly sympathized with Nakata which once again proves that it is never easy to decide what is right and what is wrong. I wouldn’t be a judge for anything in the world!

The mystic element didn’t make it always easy to keep pace with the storyline. In a comment on her blog Dolce Belezza said:

If you do pick up Kafka on the Shore, don’t expect to understand every single thing. Just go with the experience as one often needs to do with Murakami, who once said: „Be wide open to the possibilities.“

Yes, that’s exactly what I felt. There are passages that seem to me to be taken out of an entirely different novel  (or out of a music video by the Talking Heads for that matter) because the story so suddenly changes from tangible reality to the surreal. So, don’t be surprised when you find cats that can talk or fishes and leeches raining out of the sky. If you don’t mind strange things happening and you just go with the rhythm and the tone of Murakami’s story, you are taken away into an entirely different world where time has no meaning and physical principles are in abeyance. It’s like Hamlet telling his friend Horatio that

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I am looking forward to another book by the same author which I added to my challenge list after reading Kafka but I don’t give away the title yet.🙂

On my To-Do-List after reading Kafka on the Shore:

  • Listening to Beethoven’s Erzherzog-Trio performed by the „Million Dollar Trio“ (Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann)

2 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

  1. I’m so glad that you liked this book, and it seems that you liked it as much as I did. To be sure, it’s weird, but as you say the relationships are so special. As are the characters themselves. I’ve read it twice, and I still don’t feel I completely understand it, but like you, I care about the people in it (except for Johnnie Walker). I still don’t get the eel coming out of H.’s mouth at the end, though…I don’t suppose I ever will.

    • I didn’t get that either. First, I thought it was symbolic for „The Evil“ trying to get past the barrier into that other land while the stone wasn’t in place yet which had to be prevented by Hoshino. But then I thought why was the evil in Nakata who was such a pure and innocent person. While I write this a thought comes to me – do you think it possible that evil has changed its „host“ when Nakata killed Johnny Walker??? There are so many questions still open – the best excuse for reading it over and over again🙂

Ich freue mich sehr über eure Gedanken und euer Feedback! :)

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