Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

For five months I did my best not to enter any bookshops to buy books. My goal was to read more books that I already owned instead of buying new ones that would sit around for years before I opened them. However, a book emergency happened when I was on holiday. I finished the novel I had brought with me and I had two long flights and no book. I ended up purchasing Kafka on the Shore at the airport in Kuala Lumpur.

Haruki Murakami is the type of author that intimidates me. I have it in my head that I’m not smart enough to understand and to appreciate his craft entirely. However, I spoke to several book bloggers about this and they suggested I start with Kafka on the Shore as an introduction to his work. As I sat on the plane, I opened to the first page. And I was hooked. Usually on long flights I read some until my eyes get tired and then I watch some movies or take a nap. I did neither. By the time I landed in London, I was more than halfway through the novel. I was engrossed and good thing since on the second flight there were three screaming kids on the plane. I was able to block out the noise and concentrate on the book. And I do feel for the kids. It can’t be fun for them or for their parents.

The novel revolves around two characters. Kafka Tamura is a teenage boy who runs away from home. His father, as it turns out is not nice. Yet that isn’t the only reason Kafka flees. He’s running from an Oedipal curse and he’s desperate to find his mother and sister who left years ago.  The other character is the simpleton Nakata. During WWII he was struck by a mysterious illness and he never recovered fully. Before the incident he could read. When he woke up, he couldn’t. Nakata has different strengths and he learns he can talk to cats. Using this talent he becomes a finder of lost cats. One particular case sends him on a mission that he doesn’t understand but he knows he has to complete it. And it leads him to Kafka in a way.

This story may seem complicated. There are talking cats, fish that fall from the sky, and spirits that come and go. This was the stuff I was intimidated by. And I feel silly now, since his storytelling abilities are flawless. Even when he’s describing what I would normally say is impossible seemed possible while I was reading. I didn’t stop and say, “What the?” Instead I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Each twist and turn propelled me to keep on reading. And it gets a little crazy especially near the end, but it’s a fun crazy. The type that makes you wonder how one person can come up with all of this on his own. I would love to have a few drinks with him and see where the conversation goes.

Now that I’ve quieted my fear some, what Murakami book should I tackle next? This novel is on my 1001 list and this is the 74th novel I’ve read from the list. I’m hoping to make it to 100 by the end of the year. I need to get cracking and to find some really thin novels. Good thing I’ve completed all of the novels by Dickens.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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73 Responses to Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

  1. samokan says:

    same here, i have not tried Murakami’s book yet. Maybe its about time , i’ll take ur suggestion 🙂

  2. I love Murakami 🙂

  3. Alastair says:

    Kafka on the Shore is the book I read first and then later went on to read After Dark and 1Q84. I’d recommend both of these and also, perhaps, in that order. He is a very powerful writer!

  4. una231 says:

    I’d recommend 1Q84 (I preferred it to Kafka on the Shore, but it’s just as crazy!). I also liked Norwegian Wood – it has a very different style but it’s definitely worth a read.

    • TBM says:

      While wandering through the library the other day I ended up checking out Norwegian Wood. haven’t read it yet, but it’s sitting right here. 1Q84 wasn’t available.

  5. Hmmm, I have never read any of his work, but that sounds really interesting!

    • TBM says:

      I’m curious what you would think of this book, Cindy.

      • Well, I just found a free digital copy, so it is now in my tbr pile :). I just finished And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini this weekend. It was the first book I have ever read by him, and I was moved beyond words. He is an amazing storyteller who many times made me stop, put the book down, and just contemplate what had happened. Have you read any of his books?

      • TBM says:

        Is he the author of the Kite Runner?

      • Yes, he is, and I’m thinking of going to buy that one today. When I find an author that truly makes an impression on me like he has, I want the real books to proudly display on my bookshelves, not just the digital version.

      • TBM says:

        I really enjoyed The Kite Runner, even though it was one of the most depressing books I’ve read. I passed it on to several friends saying, “This made me cry, You’ll love it.”

      • And the Mountains Echoed made me cry at the end. I was blubbering like a baby :). But I was just so impressed with his writing, and the character development is outstanding. Sometimes I think it’s good for us to read a depressing book now and then because it really makes you appreciate your life and realize how much worse things could be. I can’t wait to read more of his books :).

      • TBM says:

        Blubbering like a baby. Oh goodness I need to stock up on Kleenex. I still haven’t read A Thousand Splendid Suns by him and to be honest I haven’t heard of the one you read. Yes, books like this make me feel better about my life.

      • The one I read just came out recently but has been advertised everywhere, and I did go to a bookstore today to pick up the other two. Like I needed any more books to read LOL!!!

      • TBM says:

        Huh, I haven’t seen an ad here in the Tube stations. I tried getting you a photo of the latest Dan Brown ad in Paris, but each time I got the shot lined up, the train moved.

      • Damn those moving trains!! LOL Thanks for trying though :).

      • TBM says:

        And all the tourists standing in front of the signs. grrrr!

  6. Colline says:

    Never heard of this author but it sounds as if I should look into reading his work during the summer.

  7. I love book emergencies!

  8. laaganyola says:

    I’ve read “A Wild Sheep Chase” and for the life of me I had to read WIKI after to get what it is all about. Murakami confuses me.

  9. I love the work of Haruki Murakami and am always on the lookout for one of his books that I might not have read yet. Kafka on the shore is definitely one of my favourites and definitely a good choice for an introduction into his work.

  10. frizztext says:

    You made me smile with “using this talent he becomes a finder of lost cats” (because he had learned to talk to cats) – yes, that’s my goal!

  11. Kafka on the Shore was a very good read. Personally, I fell in love with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World just because it was so different from anything I’d ever read before. Absolutely beautifully written, though it is definitely a tad “out there.”
    Thanks for sharing! Always glad I follow.

    • TBM says:

      He is out there and I think that’s what I appreciate the most. So many writers rehash the same story. While the overall story isn’t entirely a new concept, his characters and his blending of reality and fantasy put him on a different level from other writers.

  12. the only book i’ve read by him is wind-up bird chronicle, and i thought it was fascinating.

    re: you thinking you’re not smart enough for any author… i feel about books like i feel about cars. i don’t think you need to be able to understand everything that’s going on under the hood to enjoy the ride 😉

    • TBM says:

      If I had to understand what was going on under the hood in order to drive I would never leave my driveway. Interesting comparison and one I will have to remind myself of in the future. Thanks.

  13. Geoff W says:

    Love love love Murakami and I’ve only read two of his works. What I appreciate most is that there are so many levels at which you can read the books. I definitely want to re-read Kafka on the Shore and I loved 1Q84 (and have been wondering if it would be a good film adaptation recently, apart from its length). I’m going to try and get to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as that’s the one I’ve always received recommendations for.

    So glad you enjoyed it and can’t wait to see what you have to say about the next one you read!

    • TBM says:

      I looked for The Wind-Up Chronicle at the library but it’s checked out. And I think if I reread Kafka I would understand and appreciate it a tad more. This is one of those works that gets better with age, like a good wine.

  14. Julie Israel says:

    NICE. Kafka on the Shore was also my first Murakami. I hope by the end of it his writing was less ‘intimidating’ and more ‘enthralling’– it certainly was for me! I hope someday I can write something even on the edge of the same league… In that style, I mean, that blurs reality and unreality and seems almost dreamlike. I love it, and I love the way you capture it (i.e., rather than stopping and saying ‘what the?’ you kept reading).

    Great post! This has got me thinking about what books I want to take on an upcoming trip.

    • TBM says:

      It didn’t take me long at all to get over the intimidating factor and to let his story sweep me into his world. I’ve only read one of his novels, but from what I read, he’s a master storyteller. Are you going on holiday soon?

      • Julie Israel says:

        Just a trip to visit relatives in another part of the country but I’m really looking forward to it! I haven’t seen some of them in forever, AND it will be a good week without internet– a reader/writer’s retreat (including, no doubt, a trip to a favorite little bookshop!) 🙂

      • TBM says:

        That sounds great! And a week without internet sounds wonderful. I love blogging and such, but when I’m disconnected I enjoy the feeling. And you must go to the little bookshop and tell me all about it, please.

  15. I was going to start with 1Q84 or Norwegian Wood, but maybe I’ll pick this one instead. Sounds like some pretty amazing literary fantasy.

    • TBM says:

      The literary fantasy aspect scared me some, but trust me, you hardly notice it. I mean you do, but it all makes sense. Not sure I’m making sense 🙂

      • Yes, you are. I love literary fantasy, magical realism, but it has to be done well or it’s just plain stupid. Sounds like he pulled it off.

      • TBM says:

        He really did. This was much easier to understand than 100 years of Solitude. I loved that book, but I think this one is better.

  16. restlessjo says:

    I did read one, long ago, when I was staying at my daughters and it was on the table. Must have been the “wind up” one but I don’t remember much, other than being slightly bemused but impressed. Helpful, huh? 🙂

    • TBM says:

      LOL, that’s how I am. Constantly I’ll say oh you must read so and so. I don’t remember which one, but read him/her. My memory is so bad.

  17. You put me to shame with your reading. I really just read recipes…….

  18. pattisj says:

    I’m glad you found good reading for the long trip home.

  19. Vishy says:

    Nice review, TBM! Glad to know that you loved your first Murakami book. If a book is so engaging that it makes you forget to sleep on a long flight, it must be really excellent. I have heard many Murakami fans say that this is one of his best too. I haven’t read a Murakami novel yet, but I have read one of his nonfiction books ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ and I liked it very much. Though I am not a runner myself, one of my friends who is one recommended it. I loved Murakami’s simple style. I am guessing his novels might be even better – from your review it looks like ‘Kafka on the shore’ is fascinating. I didn’t know that Kafka was the name of a character in the story. The talking cat makes me think of the talking cat in Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’. It is wonderful that you have read 74 books from your 1001 list. Congratulations! Hope you enjoy reading your next Murakami. Happy reading!

    • TBM says:

      A friend of mine has recommended the running book and I keep meaning to pick it up. In fact, I forgot it was by him. I’m not much of a runner, but I do try to be 🙂 I haven’t read Bulgakov but you have piqued my curiosity.

      • Vishy says:

        I hope you get to read his running book and like it, TBM. It is really wonderful. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts if you get to read it. There is a black talking cat in Bulgakov’s book which likes drinking vodka and playing chess. It is hilarious 🙂 Hope you get to read it.

      • TBM says:

        Sometimes I think my cat, if he drank, would drink whiskey. He has the personality of an old curmudgeon, even when he was a kitten.

  20. mandanz says:

    My first was Norwegian Wood. Read it as a uni student and it struck a chord with me back then. Must try it again and see how it makes me feel now. Fantastic writer.

    • TBM says:

      I have Norwegian Wood here right now. After finishing Kafka I headed to the library to get more books by him. This was the only one they had. All the rest were checked out.

  21. Vishy says:

    Ha, ha, ha! Hope you can post some pictures of your cat sometime 🙂 (I am sure you would have done it sometime, but I don’t remember seeing a picture of your cat recently.)

  22. lynnsbooks says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels intimidated by certain authors. I should give this one a go – I haven’t read any Murakami yet so this could be my introduction.
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      There are quite a few authors who intimidate me, but I’m struggling to come up with some names. Probably because I avoid reading their works.

  23. Thank you for the write up. Now I am gearing to read this book, Talking Cats? I would love that.
    I recently read, “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
    I love it.

  24. Caroline says:

    I haven’t read this one but, since you’re looking for a shorter one South of the Border, West of the Sun is zoo beautiful. I liked Sputnik Sweetheart as well but it’s similar to this one, I think. He has elemenst like the cats that are recurring. Norwegina Wood is one that divides people a lot. I think I’ll pick it next. I would really call him a fantasy writer, the fanatstical elements are metaphors but you can somehow understand what he means. I think he went over the top with the last one.

    • TBM says:

      Thanks, Caroline. I’ll see if the library has copies of the ones you suggested. I picked up Norwegian Wood from the library but haven’t started it yet. Now I’m not sure I will just yet. He has three others on the list. Sputnick Sweetheart, Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, and After the Quake. I thought about linking this up with Once Upon a Time, but then didn’t. I wasn’t sure how the group would take to that.

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