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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Kafka on the Shore


For several years, I've been interested in reading the work of Haruki Murakami, so I was very pleased to find the novel, Kafka on the Shore, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, on a small table in my daughter's room.  Over the years, I've read a lot about Murakami's work, and was interested in several novels by this prolific, bestselling author, as well as his memoir, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which caught my interest even before I'd begun to run on a regular basis.

"On my fifteenth birthday I'll run away from home, journey to a far-off town, and live in a corner of a small library."

Published in 2005, Kafka on the Shore focuses on protagonist Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who lives with his father in Tokyo.  Kafka runs away from home to escape from his troubles with his father. The first five chapters in this book are told in the first person narrative by Kafka.  On the run, Kafka travels to a shore village called Takamatsu, and discovers the Komura Family Library, where he meets Oshima, who works at the library.  Throughout the book, Oshima helps Kafka in numerous ways.  Kafka also meets the lovely but sad Miss Saeki, who's in charge of the library.  In Chapter 6, we meet Satoru Nakata, an older man who refers to himself in the third person throughout the book simply as Nakata.  He "used to be smart",  but due to a strange accident Nakata became mentally disabled, and lost his ability to read.  Oddly, though, Nakata can talk to cats, and he helps find missing cats. (Chapter 16, "the scary cat chapter", was very difficult for me to read. Without saying too much about it, what happens in this chapter is horrific; I felt as if I were suddenly, temporarily reading a Stephen King horror story.)  Later Nakata meets Hoshino, a truck driver, and they become good friends. Nakata reminds Hoshino of his grandfather, and together they embark on a special quest. The lives of all of these characters, and other, secondary characters, like Sakura, Johnnie Walker, and Colonel Sanders, intersect in numerous, unusual ways, creating an unforgettable story. 

There are so many things I could say about Kafka on the Shore.  It's a story unlike any other I've read.  It's a beautifully written book that features a passion for books and libraries, music, nature, food (mostly delicious Japanese food), cats, and perhaps most importantly, friendship.  The protagonist's very name, Kafka, reflects themes of writer Franz Kafka's work, of alienation and loneliness. The wonderful friendships that develop in this book, especially between Kafka and Oshima, and Nakata and Hoshino, are antidotes to this alienation; the characters help and care for each other, and in doing so, provide companionship and solace. Throughout the book, Kafka seeks close, familial connection to others; he wonders if Miss Saeki is his mother, if Sakura is his sister. He craves connection.

Kafka on the Shore is a magical story which also has some magic, or more precisely, magical realism, in it, in just the right amount. At times, readers are left to wonder what's real and what's imaginary. I read the book at a leisurely pace, often at night before I went to sleep, a chapter or two at a time. I looked forward to my time with this novel because the book is original and fascinating. The main characters in this novel are unique and I enjoyed spending time with them.  I've been to Japan twice (my daughter lives in Japan so we have a good "excuse" to travel there), which enhanced my enjoyment of the book.  I'd like to reread Kafka on the Shore soon, while it's still fresh in my mind, because I enjoyed it a great deal and would like to understand it at a deeper level.  There are several puzzles and mysteries in the book, and although I'm not sure I will ever solve all of them, a rereading would at least bring me closer.  It would also be a pleasure.   



Special thanks to Bellezza from Dolce Bellezza for hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge 12.  She has hosted this challenge for many years, and in doing so has introduced me to the rich world of Japanese literature, for which I'm grateful.

Thanks for reading!  Your comments are welcomed, as always.

24 comments:

  1. Great review. I have been waning to read Murakami for years. The story and characters sound rich. I also find your comments about the book’s mysteries intriguing. I may give the author a try soon.

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    1. I'm not sure why it took me so long to read his work! But now I know that I'll read more of it. Thank you for stopping by and for your comment, Brian Joseph!

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  2. Great post,. I was also upset by the scene of cruelty to a cat




    Some of Murakami's work, including Kafka on the Shore is in the tradition of magic realism.    He is a great story teller who explores the deeper themes of post WWII Japanese culture mixed in with surrealistic episodes, sexual encounters, history, reflections on literature, philosophy and popular culture that have made him a best selling author world wide.     His books are  all a lot of fun but they will make you think about broader issues and they do not shrink from the horrors that underpin  the sunlit world of consumer Japan and the world beyond it.    Many of the books, for sure including Kafka on the Shore, have symbolic themes and puzzles that those so inclined can have fun unraveling.    

    As soon as I read on the back cover of Kafka on the Shore (brilliant book title) that one of the central characters was a man who could speak to cats I knew I would like it.   (There are a terrible few pages of violence against cats which I admit I skipped.)    There are two central characters in this book.   Kafka is a 15 year old runaway seeking his mother and sister.     He ends up being sheltered in a marvelous private library run by a beautiful older woman (there is a " bookish boy's fantasy" theme found throughout the work of Murakami).    Kafka begins to read the corpus of the great early 20th century writer Natsume Soseki.   It is exciting to see young Kafka try to find his place in the world while living in a library curated by a beautiful older woman.

    The second major character is Nakata, an older man who cannot read but who can speak to cats.   He receives a small disability check from the government but his main income comes from his work as a tracker of lost cats.  The story about how he lost a large portion of his intellectual capacity at age 16 is a great side story taking us back to WWII.    Nakata had never been more than a few kilometers from his home until his most recent cat track assignment took him way outside the area he was comfortable in.    He is befriended by a truck driver who helps him in his quest.

    There are a number of philosophical references in the work.     One of the minor characters is a beautiful prostitute who calms down  excited customers by talking about philosophical issues.   There are a lot of references to western music, from Beethoven to the Beetles.   

    Kafka on the Shore is a fun read.    Murakami has a wild imagination. .    There is really a lot to enjoy in this book and little to dislike.    Parts of the book are very explicit sexually.     You can tell Murakami really enjoys the physical beauty of women.  The sex scenes are very erotic though told very much from a male point of view.  

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    1. Thank you for your detailed comment, Mel, which adds a lot to this post. Chapter 16 is awful to read, but essential to the story line of the book.

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  3. I've never read and of Murakami's work but know a lot of people who have. I really want to try something one day but, to be honest, I'm a little intimidated. I'm glad this was a winner for you.

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    1. Kathy, you're a great reader and have nothing to fear! Thank you for stopping by.

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  4. This was my first, and remains my favorite, book by Murakami.You have done a brilliant job of describing a book which is very hard to define. (For me.) I still don't know what the eel coming out of his mouth at the end really means. At any rate, perhaps part of why I loved it so much is that search for connection, and finding ways to alleviate our alienation. Perhaps we are all really strangers in this world. Thanks so much for reading this, and participating in the challenge! I will link to your review on Sunday's wrap up post.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Bellezza. This is a hard book to describe in words, because there's so much in this novel, which is an incredible work. So I just focused on a few things, and my overall impressions and experience with Kafka on the Shore.

      Your reading challenge helped me to pick up the book and finish it before the end of the challenge. I can't thank you enough!

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  5. I have a few Murakami books I have to finish! Kafka on the Shore is one I'd like to read. Nice review.

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  6. This sounds good, I have What I Talk about When I Talk about Running on audio and plan on listening to it as soon as I finish my current listen. Great review!

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    1. I'd love to listen to What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. Thanks for stopping by, Vicki!

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  7. I haven't read this but it sounds good. Great review!

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  8. Wonderful review! So happy you enjoyed this one. I did as well.

    I love your cover art photo as well.

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  9. This sounds like a wonderful book. I'm adding it to my "to read" list. I love your vivid description. I will admit that I am worried about the horror of the cat chapter . . .

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    1. It was very hard to read that chapter! I love cats.

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  10. This is one that I’ve wanted to read for some time as well. I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it!! Sounds like I should bump it up the TBR pile :)

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  11. I am glad you enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore, fantastic post! I enjoy magical realism as well.

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  12. I appreciate all of your comments. Thank you so much.:)

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  13. Not read or heard this one but I like the sound of it xxx

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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  14. There are so, so many things about this book that really appeal to me and yet I'm just not sure.

    A little perturbed by the fact that 'readers are left to wonder what's real and what's imaginary' - not something that would usually bother me but given that I know woefully little about Japanese culture I think it might in this instance.
    Then there's the 'horrific' chapter 16.
    Perhaps something I would read if it was presented to me in lets say my book club but, as much as certain aspects appeal to me and I can't see my myself reading it otherwise.

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