Kafka On The Shore (Haruki Murakami)

Haruki Murakami is a bit of a famous name in the world of literature and book-enthusiasts. Having never read any of his works and rather mystified about what exactly his works were about, I had the opportunity to snag up two of his titles, Kafka On The Shore being the first. A pretty thick book, it took me over a month to read this book since school had started up and I was having a hard time getting the chance to pick it back up again.

In fact, I might have taken even longer to finish the book if I hadn’t talked about the book to my classmate and narrated whatever I had read of it so far. They really wanted to know how the book ended and kept asking me about it, making me even more determined to finally finish it once and for all.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle—yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.

Goodreads

I just want to say beforehand that I bought this book without reading the blurb and in fact, did not read the blurb until I was almost half-way through the book and was getting really grossed out with the Oedipus-complex concepts and character interactions. 

Like most young adult books, this is a story of a teenage boy’s journey and like most teenage boys, he is going through the arguably wretched phase of where you are left dangling between the world of children and the world of adults. And just like most popular literary works, the bridge of growth between these two phases is almost always heavily involved with sexual development and a degree of exploration. Basically: I read a lot of things about hormonal teenage boys that I really didn’t need to know about and made me wish that there was literature out there that discussed teenage development and growth without glaringly sexual themes. It just feels weird and uncomfortable, probably because I never had such phases or transitions, so to read the works of well-published authors writing things like this and all this content seeming like made-up fantasies regarding teenagers just rubs me the wrong way. 

Especially when you’re throwing in Oedipal references and have half of the entire novel dedicated to said Oedipal references.

A lot of the book blurs the lines between an apparent reality and a clear fantasy. Interestingly enough, none of the characters actively question the shift in their world. The entirety of the book has a strange, dream-like quality to it. Fantastic things happen throughout the book, like cats talking and fish falling from the sky, and while the peripheral sphere of characters may marvel at what is going on, our main set of characters do not question the events, taking things in as they come and moving on forward, leaving the reader to be the one questioning what is going on. It really is just like a dream. It only seems bizarre when you think about it later in the third person or as a disconnected audience, but the person in the dream, it is very much a plausible reality that they are in.

Despite the generally questionable content, I couldn’t deny that the author certainly has a flair for writing. I certainly haven’t ever read anything like this before and I am absolutely certain that if some of the ideas in here weren’t so problematic, I would have genuinely enjoyed this book and taken the time to reread it a few times, just to try to understand the ending.

“The book didn’t come to a conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have one. For me though, having no conclusion seemed fine”

— Miss Saeki, Kafka on the Shore

To say I am utterly confused regarding the ending would be a bit of understatement. A lot of things are left open to interpretation, several others have not been deemed important enough to explain or confirm, leaving the reader to take things however they want. Just like the book Miss Saeki had published, this too didn’t have a solid conclusion, although it certainly ended with a note of a fresh beginning, which might be interpreted as a conclusion of itself.

While reading and making my way towards the end, I had a feeling that I was missing out on a lot of the things being talked about and referenced in the book. Kafka on the Shore is not just a literary work, it contains a literary discussion of other works within its pages, whether it is a discussion of written works or audio works. Since I’m a fairly new person in these waters, I didn’t know about the stories and concepts and music that the characters were discussing, although I could appreciate the author’s way of proclaiming his opinions through the opinions of his own characters. Incorporating media and literature that you as an author consumed and to regurgitate it into your own works is really cool and to me, it feels like feeding a continuum of the ever-changing ‘scape of art and literature through the times.

Overall, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with the book, especially since I didn’t really have any expectations when I jumped in. Although I am certainly a little puzzled and mildly put off. However, it wouldn’t stop me from picking up any other work of his and I have already started reading a second title. Overall, I’ll give it a 2/5 for plot and content and a 5/5 for writing style and flow. That brings it down to an overall 3.5/5 and a PG rating of 18+.


Have you ever read a Haruki Murakami work? What was your opinion on it? Which do you think is the best? Which book would you suggest for me to read next? Have a nice day! 🙂

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Author: Kanra Khan

I'm a Pakistani American student of medicine, or more precisely, an almost-graduate of MBBS Class of 2019. I like to write about my experiences in med school and my adventures in life, which range from traveling, to art, to blogging and photography. Like what you're seeing so far? Consider exploring a bit more! The Lunar Descent is endless.

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