Kafka on the Shore

By Haruki Murakami; translated by Philip Gabriel

Place: Publisher & Year: New York: Vintage International, c2005, 2006

Genres: General fiction, magical realism, fantasy

ISBN: 9781400079278

Audience: Adult

Number of pages: 464

Setting: Japan – mostly Takamatsu (Shikoku) & Nakano Ward (Tokyo), but also some unspecified mountains

Time period: Contemporary

Plot summary: Two stories converge into one;  the first centers around a fifteen year old boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home and finds refuge in a library.  The second story centers on an aging mentally challenged man, Nakata, who has the ability to talk to cats, but cannot read.  The two characters are drawn to the same place in Japan for reasons which they do not understand.  While they both seek answers to complex questions about themselves, another character who goes by the name of Johnnie Walker, seeks something not entirely of this world.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: Moderate pace – some parts move quickly, others more slowly.

Characterization:  Much of the story is told in first person through Kafka’s eyes, however, alternative perspectives are used throughout the story.  A second person voice  is sometimes used when Kafka encounters the boy called Crow.  A third person voice is used in the scenes involving Nakata, as well as some other scenes.  Offbeat characters include Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders.  Other important characters are Sakura, Oshima, Miss Saeki, and Hoshino.

Frame: The title refers to both the main character’s physical location in the story, as well as a popular song written by another character.  This song was influenced by a painting and a relationship.  The title sets the frame in that there are layers of meaning found throughout this story, which give the reader much to contemplate.

Story line:  A bizarre and highly entertaining,  complex and convoluted story which is based upon the Oedipus myth. Expect a couple disturbing scenes in addition to much to ponder.

Subject headings:

From Pima County Public Library:

Runaway teenagers — Fiction.

Japan — Fiction.

Suggested titles:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: a Novel  by Haruki Murakami

Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

Riding the East Wind by Otohiko Kaga

An Echo of Heaven by Kenzaburo Oe

Personal notes:  I really enjoyed this story immensely, even though I was a bit perplexed by some of it.  I loved how it seemed to begin as a typical coming-of-age story, but just continued to get increasingly more weird as the story progressed.  I also enjoyed the characters (except Johnnie Walker) and found a lot of humor in many of the scenes.  And while I’m not really certain what metaphysical fiction entails (other than one writer’s opinion), I was surprised to learn that this book won an award for fantasy.  I tend to think that fantasy fiction has an element of magic in it, which was very obscure in this book.  Yes, there is a ghost in the story – but it is the ghost of a living person.  Yes, there is a lot of weird stuff that happens – but nothing is ever explained in any fashion or form.  The story seemed much more “realistic” than most fantasy books which I’ve read.

Other: Diversity – teenage runaway, hemophiliac, gay transgender man, mentally challenged man

Haruki Murakami’s website

Wikipedia’s article for this book

This book won the World Fantasy Award for 2006

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