REVIEW: Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami, born in Kyoto 1949, sold the Jazz bar he owned with his wife in 1979 to become a full time writer after his first Japanese publication. His surrealist and fantasist narratives is what makes him an important figure amongst Postmodern literature.

Kafka On The Shore follows the lives of two protagonists, 15 year old runaway, Kafka Tamura, and an elderly man Nakata. It begins with the story of Kafka (whose real name we never actually find out) running away from his famous sculptor fathers home and ends up on a small island in Takamatsu called Shikoku. Here, he meets transgender librarian and its mysterious owner Miss Saeki who provides him with a job and shelter. Nakata’s plot begins with X-File record by American Occupation Force describing the events that took place during the war: a group of war evacuees loosing consciousness after supposedly spotting a UFO. All recovered expect for Nakata who woke up from a coma saying he is “not very bright” but has the power to talk to cats (Murakami’s books often feature cats to act as members from another world, and his Jazz cafe was called Power Cat). One of Nakata’s cat searches leads him to Kafka’s fathers house, Koichi Tamura (who is disguised as Johnnie Walker from the whiskey label), where Nakata is forced to kill him to save the cats souls from being used for flutes. After running away from the scene Nakata manages to hitchhike a truck ending up in Shikoku.

Going back to Kafka’s story, he falls in love with the 15 year old spirit of Miss Saeki (actually 50 years old) and starts a weird affair with her although she may be his real mother. Alongside this, Kafka is being hunted down by the police for the investigation into the killing of his father. To avoid this he flees to Oshima’s hut in the forest mountains where he finds an entrance to a semi-real underworld. In the meantime, Nakata tries to hand himself into the police but just gets passed off as having dementia, which is when he jumps into Hoshino’s truck to drive to Shikoku. This is where the two narratives start to link.

Although there are many plots to keep up with which helps keep everything new and exciting, there are still some loose ends that don’t seem to tie up. Obviously I’m not going to ruin the ending but to UFO X-Files are only talked about once and not so well explained. And we never really find out if Miss Saeki is actually Kafka’s real mother, all she tells him is “you know the answer”. Or Sakura? The young girl he meets early on who may or may not be his sister, but later rapes her in his dream!? However saying this as a Murakami fan the looseness entices me and it makes you dream up your own assumptions and conclusions.

It’s magical realism is what makes Kafka on the Shore so enigmatic and powerful than you would originally think. His extensive use of metaphors helps the audience think outside the box and move away from typical conventions. With reality being so unclear it opens your imagination to an array of ideas and endless possibilities. It’s one of the most captivating Murakami books yet.

I do highly recommend this book. Its surprises, jokes and dreamy illusions will keep you turning pages all night.

Can be purchased here on Amazon for only £6.29!