Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

There are certain times of the year when Haruki Murakami is the only writer that I want
to read. Since I have only read three books by him, and there are many unread ones left, I have a lot to select from. I picked up Kafka on the Shore sometime in March, but I just came around to reading it, and there was a point in the book where I came close to giving up on it. But I didn’t… Yay, me!

Kafka on the Shore is about Kafka Tamura, a fifteen year old troubled teen, who runs away from home in search of his estranged mother and sister. Kafka hasn’t ever received any affection from his father, and although he feels abandoned by his mother, he still wants to look for her and rekindle a relationship that he hopes will make his life feel worthwhile. To cope with his troubles, Kafka often breaks himself into an alternate personality, a boy called Crow, who helps him communicate clearly in difficult times.

Simultaneously, there’s Nakata, an aging, simple man, who lost his ability to read, write, or be “normal” after an accident during the second World War. Nakata can talk to cats, however, and makes a living finding lost cats. While the only thing that Nakata and Kafka have in common is the area in which they live, a murder of a common enemy ties the fate of the two forever.

While the magical realism of Kafka is quite enjoyable and typical of a Murakami book, there was just something off about this novel. I liked the character of Nakata and Oshima a lot, and they were the reasons I kept reading the book. Usually, though, I am fond of every Murakami character (he just manages to do that!). Kafka was a weak protagonist. But this might be deliberate because he is only fifteen. There isn’t enough background about his prior relationships to support the urgency in his run away from home. It seems awkward and too simple for a fifteen year old to just up and go, and survive without any major difficulty.

Long-winded, complex, and deeply philosophical conversations between characters are the high point of Murakami’s books. There were several here (sometimes between humans and cats, too!); but many felt stilted, and I read over them to get to the meaty, narrative parts. The Oedipal angle also seemed forced, but it’s one of my favorite stories, so I am ready to give that one a pass.

The middle of the novel is its best part. The beginning takes too long to take off, and the ending doesn’t come soon enough – but the middle is just right. I wish I had better things to say about the book, but for me, it was just about a meh. I also have a minor gripe about the translator’s overuse of the contraction of is as ‘s. Once I started noticing that, I couldn’t stop. Have any of you read Kafka? Please tell me your thoughts on the book.

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6 Responses to Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore

  1. Jina says:

    Your rating of ‘meh’ oddly is making me want to read the book. I am sad I wont be able to borrow it and read it from you anymore.:(.
    Whats up with Murakami and cats?

  2. parag says:

    You can’t hold “weak male protagonist” against this book. As far as I can tell from all the Murakami books I have read, “weak male protagonist” is the hallmark of his stories.

  3. parag says:

    Kafka’s youth may make him the weakest as you noted but he is as weak as Toru from ‘Wind up bird’, Toru from ‘Norwegian wood’, K from ‘Sputnik sweetheart’ and unnamed man from ‘Wild sheep chase’. These aimelss (and jobless) men don’t dictate the direction of the story but get pushed, pulled and dragged around by circustances (and some women). They are so weak that Murakami doesn’t even give them names or reuses the same name in different stories. 🙂

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