Books, Fiction, Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

On reading Murakami’s works I realised that sometimes some writers’ works aren’t meant to be good books or bad books, there are some exceptions. Haruki Murakami is that exception in the contemporary world. When reading any of his novel, the vulnerability of reading a bad book is reduced drastically. His words, the structure, the flow of text, the plot, and the characters together make a mesmerizing mesh for a reader to experience. When I first read Murakami’s first published book, Hear The Wind Sing, I was astonished by how a writer can maintain the calmness throughout the text and let the reader feel that calmness in similar or almost the same manner it is written, while reading the text. There is never any hurry in Murakami’s books, and that is what I like most about him.

KAFKA ON THE SHORE is a story of a runaway 15-year old boy named Kafka Tamura from Tokyo and his sculptor-father who kills cats to make flutes from their souls. Kafka winds up in the provincial city of Takamatsu on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku. Here the cross-gender librarian of a private library, Oshima, and its enigmatic owner, Mrs. Saeki, provide the runaway boy an employment and a place to live. This odyssey gets more attentive simultaneously when Nakata, an aged man, who considers himself ‘not very bright’ but has a power to converse with cats. Alternating chapters for each character, Murakami follows two seekers who seem to have nothing in common until they are brought together by fate or by prevalence.

Meanwhile, Tamura begins an affair with his employer Mrs. Saeki and starts realising that she might be his mother who renounced him when he was four. Whereas for Nakata whose attempt to turn himself in for murder is dismissed as simple dementia, follows a psychic urge westwards in the company of a drop-out truck driver, Hoshino, who becomes his companion all the way to Takamatsu, Shikoku. Here the novel’s two characters foregather themselves together unknowingly to each other.

With the end of the book, the author leaves quite a lot of questions unanswered. The question regarding his renounced mother, the UFO, his sister, could he travel in his dreams? Was Kafka schizophrenic? I am glad though, that Murakami leaves all the se questions to be answered by the reader himself. A different response to every query by each different reader. Mesmerizing. That’s what we all do. We have create different perspective towards a thing in our minds and continue to tangle with it. Right now, you and me both would be looking at a one thing but there is a lot more probability that what comes in our mind would be different. I think that how life is. Some things, some questions are left unanswered incidentally. We won’t even know that we both have a role to play in the particular situation or we both might be attached by the same thread that is going to vanish soon, unknowingly to us both .

I don’t think it is Murakami’s best work, but I certainly want you to have look at this. I am thinking of exploring more Japanese Writers whose work is available in english translation to cure my curiosity that if every Japanese writer has mastered the art of writing so smoothly and with an uncanny though gratifying calmness?

5 out of 5! Recommended.

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28 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami”

  1. This is one of my favourite of Murakami’s. Though, I think the one that made me fall in love with his writing was 1Q84 – everything I’ve read after it just doesn’t measure up to it, though I am willing to be persuaded!

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  2. I’ve never been able to get on with murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles showed promise but wasn’t that good and I read a short story book which was okay, maybe I should make this my third and final stab at the guys works.

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    1. Wind-Up Bird did not work for me much. I hope you enjoy your time with this one. Even if you are not satisfied and ever want to give one more go, try Rat Chronicles first two books, Hear Me The Wind Sing, and Pinball 1973.

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  3. the problem i have with reading books with foreign names is that i end up spending so much time trying to figure out the names that i end up losing the story – it’s my crazy thing i have going on. Good review, might be worth having a go at and see.

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  4. What a great review, Aman! I also really loved reading ‘Kafka on the Shore’ and I believe it’s pretty underappreciated.
    Murakami isn’t considered a ‘typical’ Japanese author at all – his writing style has been greatly influenced by foreign authors, but still retains some inherent Japanese elements. You should definitely read more Japanese literature, though. It’s such an interesting world to discover! 🙂
    By the way, have you tried reading anything by Murakami’s brother, Ryu? I’ve heard his works are a lot darker, but I haven’t had the chance to read his work yet.

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    1. I agree, his writing does seemed influence by the foreign authors but in his writing there’s still some touch of the Japanese culture.
      Ryu Murakami is his brother? That’s some news. I never knew that. I haven’t but the fact you have told me makes it interesting. I’ll definitely try Ryu’s books.

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      1. Some hardcore fans of Japanese lit don’t acknowledge him as much, though, and that’s such a pity because I consider him one of the most outstanding writers of his generation. Even my Japanese teacher told me how Murakami’s writing seems strange to him. I just think that once someone gets a bit more popular than usual, people will start digging for negative stuff to say 🙂
        Yes! Do let me know once you read something of Ryu’s. I’d love to hear your opinion on it 🙂

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      2. Yeah, once something is famous for a different reason which is satisfying people start nagging about it and create that situation into a negative one.
        Sure, I will. When I read any of his work, you will be the first one to know 🙂

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  5. I’m planning on tackling my first Murakami this year. A friend recommended Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as an introduction, but maybe I should try this one instead?

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  6. His themes and some parts are indeed amazing, but his books are best read quoted, with all my honestly. After reading more than two works by him (KOTS and Norwegian Woods) I see why there is a lot of questions unanswered, and why is he controversial to some.

    In a way, his style is a bit analogous to the works of David Lynch. Only the reader provides the needed structure just like in a dream, their works are full of random events that may or may not be intentional. Arranging random events can make a novel very well just like Burroughs proved so. It’s a bit like you make a bottle, but fill it up with whatever comes.

    I do like Murakami though, mainly for the conversations that take place in his works. They are great and usually hit very close to home. Pretty sure he must be a great person, I’m just not sure if he is a great writer as well.

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  7. Kafka on the Shore was my introduction to Haruki Murakami. How do I say this… I fell in love… would be an understatement of sort. You see, this book, as bizarre as it was at times, spoke to my heart. I feel that Haruki Murakami understands the human mind very well. Or at least, he understands the minds of the likes of me very well. May be that’s why I couldn’t put down this book once I started. And once I finished, the story stuck with me, or rather I was stuck in the story, with the characters, for days!

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    1. Murakami’s writing has an long lasting effect. I remember being introduced to him by his novella Hear The Wind Sing, and I must say his words were in my conscious mind for months. You should try Sputnik Sweetheart and 1Q84 if you haven’t already.

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  8. Kafka on the Shore was the first book I read from the contemporary author and aside from Donna Tart, has grown to be a favorite of mine. I agree the calmness that his descriptive language and plot turns creates is equally felt by the reader and the engagement between the reader and the text is so quaint yet utterly engaging that no matter if I am indulging in one of his short stories or undertaking his novels I am, time and time again, lifted into a surrealistic adventure!

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