Kafka on the Shore – Review

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t be sure, in fact, whether the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm is all about.”

When you are greeted by such a quote in the 3rd page of the book you are reading, you know you are in for some ride.  There are  books that haunt you long after you are done reading them and frustrate you because they did not end the way you expected them to – ‘Kafka on the shore’  by Haruki Murakami is one such book. This book nags you. It nags you to read it again because you never really get that closure you look for in a book. At the end of the book you are at loss of words, trying to comprehend what you just read. A while later when the feeling of the book wears off, you find it imperative to document your thoughts on the book hoping you will understand the book better in the process.

Kafka on the shore has two plot lines running in alternate chapters. One, is about a 15-year-old boy named Kafka Tamura who runs away from his house to escape his dad  and second, about Satoru “not very bright” Nakata, an old man, who post a mysterious UFO spotting in his childhood, loses his memory but gains an exceptional ability to talk to cats. But that is just broadly speaking. This book has many sub plots which keep you guessing throughout about the relationship between various characters. It has many references to a lot of other Murakami and philosophical works of which I had no clue about till I did a bit of post-reading research of this book on the internet.

The language used is extremely easy (an English translation of the Japanese novel, ‘Umibe no Kafuka’) and that plays a great role in falling in love with the book despite its complex story line.
Murakami gives us a lot of information about the music, literature and pop culture through the conversations between his characters, most of which are between Kafka and Oshmima, a transgender man, who works in the library in which Kafka stays after running away from his home. Here, Kafka starts developing feelings for the head of the library, Miss Saeki, who has a dark and sad past of her own. There have been references in the book which suggest that she could be his mother thus, introducing us to the concept of ‘the curse of Oedipus’.

In the alternate chapters, we have the story of Nakata who is out in search of a cat. However, as the events unfold, Nakata sets out on an unknown mission in order to restore the balance in the world with the help of  a truck driver Hoshino who develops a great liking for Nakata as he reminds him of his dead grandfather. Nakata is a very endearing character and teaches us a thing or two about the complexities of life in his own ‘not so bright’ way. He probably deserves a book of his own. While the book does not help us much in knowing the Japanese lifestyle, it does throw a bit of light on the lives of blue-collared workers through the eyes of Hoshino.

Halfway through the book, you know you have lost the connections between the characters and don’t really understand where the story is going but you keep reading because you want to know what happens finally. Reading this book is a constant struggle between wanting to give up reading the book and knowing how it all ends. The book gets extremely tiring in a lot of places especially with a lot of unnecessary details about  mundane stuff like how kafka exercises everyday or how he is walking from one room to another. While we keep falling in love with Nakata’s character, the liking for Kafka’s charcater goes in the exact opposite direction. That kid is one annoying 15 year old.

Suspend all your previous ideas of fantasy and read the book as Murakami takes the concepts of fantasy and parallel universe to whole new level. And while you are reading, keep a pen and book by your side to note down all the insightful quotes this book has. In a lot of places the book speaks to you, lets you ponder about your own life and gives answers to a lot of questions you didn’t know you wanted answers for.

2 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore – Review

  1. With regard to the ‘easy flowing language’ , this is what he had to say about Japanese and English in a book called ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’.

    “When I’m in Japan I rarely have to speak in front of people. I don’t give any talks. In English, though, I have given a number of talks, and I expect that, if opportunity arises, I will give more in future. It’s strange, but when I have to speak in front of an audience, I find it more comfortable to use my far-from-perfect English than Japanese. I think this is because when I have to speak seriously about something in Japanese, I am overcome with the feeling of being swallowed up in a sea of words.”

    I can understand when you say “Reading this book is a constant struggle between wanting to give up reading the book and knowing how it all ends. The book gets extremely tiring in a lot of places especially with a lot of unnecessary details about mundane stuff …. ” because the book I read has similar phases too. He describes water dripping from the terrace for pages together and does the same about running in Athens and Marathon. Though he takes pages for both the events, we are affected in a different way.

    I think you do justice by writing about the book in a simple language, in the process, understanding it yourself and peeling the layers off for us. Good one!


  2. 1st half good, 2nd half brahmi comedy missing. repeat audience kashtam.

    interval block mind “dobbindi”… the author “would” have included more commercial elements.

    may work in A center. B&C centers lo “workout” avvadhu.

    verdict: this review, one time read.


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