Recommended Reading: Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore
By Nick Chhoeun
Kafka on the Shore the fourth Haruki Murakami I’ve recently completed and it’s the second book post I’ve written about Murakami for Café. The first time I ever read one of Murakami’s books, I was hooked on his ability to include so many scenes, characters, and surrealist/magical realist/fantastical elements without confusion on the plot. I want to read all of his novels. I don’t think I’ll like every single one of them but Kafka on the Shore keeps my ‘thumbs up’ streak going.
This is a story of two characters journey’s for identity, meaning, and purpose. The story alternates between the perspectives of two main characters: Kafka and Nakata. Kafka is a 15-year-old boy who runs away from home in search of more from his life while Nakata is an old dumb man who can talk to cats and lives a very basic life.
The main premise of the story is this separate journey both Kafka and Nakata embark on. During their paths, they both encounter unusual and ridiculous events which are fitting to the magic realism/fantastical genre. For example (without spoilers) the story comes across things like spirits, magical stones, talking cats and dogs, and KFC’s own Colonel Sanders as a minor character.
Alongside these magical realism additions, Murakami also refers to many philosophical readings, classical novels like Oedipus, classical music, and an extensive amount of literature. He is able to weave these references in his story easily within the character’s interactions to give the plot a deeper meaning. Sometimes these references feel preachy but they work for the most part.
The ending of the story left me with a bunch of questions but in a way that I enjoyed pondering the outcome. I felt like I missed crucial points that would have made the ending clearer. There were so many scenes, references, and plot turns that it was a bit difficult to keep track of every important detail. I left the book with a good sense of what happened but I know that with another read I will be able to understand it better. Kafka on the Shore is definitely worth the read. It’s an odd yet amusing story that kept me immersed throughout.
Nick Chhoeun is a staff editor at Café MFA and a first-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.