Book Review “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore

“It’s like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”

This is a strange and at times surreal story. We have two parallel stories running on alternate chapters. In one the protagonist is Kafka Tamura, a 15 year old runaway who seeks a kind of sanctuary in a private library, where he meets the friendly Oshima, who is not what he seems and the more aloof Miss Saeki. In the other plotline we meet Nakata, a simple old man who can talk to cats, as a child he was victim of an incident on a mushroom foraging trip, after which he lost the ability to read. The two plotlines don’t converge until the last quarter of the novel. The characters in the book are fascinating and strange. There are elements of magic realism with ghosts and leeches and sardines raining down from the sky. Murakami is an afficionado of Western Culture and tells us much about Haydn and Beethoven, for example, as the story unravels.

The book has many riddles, some strange dreams and odd happenings. Murakami suggests the book should be read several times to understand its meaning. The solutions may be different for different readers, what happens is definitely open to many interpretations.

The “Kafka on the Shore” refers to a painting in the library and a song sung by a teenage Miss Saeki that was a big hit in Japan. The writer Kafka shares with Murakami a strange view of our individual existence.

Murakami is to Western literature what Studio Ghibli is to Disney, strange, enthralling, exotic and a little unsettling.

“For a 15 year old who doesn’t even shave yet, you’re sure carrying a lot of (emotional) baggage around” remarks Oshima to Kafka

My rating 4.5 out of 5

I also reviewed: Book Review: “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami