Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002, 612 pages, translated by Philip Gabriel)

Kafka on the Shore is the 9th work by Haruki Murakami (1949-Kyoto, Japan)  that I have read in the last year.      Obviously I greatly enjoy and appreciate his creations.    Some of his work, including Kafka on the Shore is in the tradition of magic realism.    He is a great story teller who explores the deeper themes of post WWII Japanese culture mixed in with surrealistic episodes, sexual encounters, history, reflections on literature, philosophy and popular culture that have made him a best selling author world wide.     His books are  all a lot of fun but they will make you think about broader issues and they do not shrink from the horrors that underpin  the sunlit world of consumer Japan and the world beyond it.    Many of the books, for sure including Kafka on the Shore, have symbolic themes and puzzles that those so inclined can have fun unraveling.    

As soon as I read on the back cover of Kafka on the Shore (brilliant book title) that one of the central characters was a man who could speak to cats I knew I would like it.   (There are a terrible few pages of violence against cats which I admit I skipped.)    There are two central characters in this book.   Kafka is a 15 year old runaway seeking his mother and sister.     He ends up being sheltered in a marvelous private library run by a beautiful older woman (there is a " bookish boy's fantasy" theme found throughout the work of Murakami).    Kafka begins to read the corpus of the great early 20th century writer Natsume Soseki.   It is exciting to see young Kafka try to find his place in the world while living in a library curated by a beautiful older woman.

The second major character is Nakata, an older man who cannot read but who can speak to cats.   He receives a small disability check from the government but his main income comes from his work as a tracker of lost cats.  The story about how he lost a large portion of his intellectual capacity at age 16 is a great side story taking us back to WWII.    Nakata had never been more than a few kilometers from his home until his most recent cat track assignment took him way outside the area he was comfortable in.    He is befriended by a truck driver who helps him in his quest.

There are a number of philosophical references in the work.     One of the minor characters is a beautiful prostitute who calms down  excited customers by talking about philosophical issues.   There are a lot of references to western music, from Beethoven to the Beetles.   

Kafka on the Shore is a fun read.    Murakami has a wild imagination. .    There is really a lot to enjoy in this book and little to dislike.    Parts of the book are very explicit sexually.     You can tell Murakami really enjoys the physical beauty of women.  The sex scenes are very erotic though told very much from a male point of view.  

My next Murakami will be Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  

Mel u  


H said...

I didn't know what to make of the ending of this book, although there were many good references to other works in there (definitely a contemporary novel). I really enjoyed Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World..maybe because it made the most sense to me.

Mystica said...

Thank you for this review. I enjoyed it.

Suko said...

This does sound interesting. I did not realize that Kafka is a character in the book; I thought it was a reference to the writer (and maybe it is that, too).

Unknown said...

Thanks for your review. I haven't read this one...I enjoyed Norwegian Wood and Wild Sheep Chase so will have to read this one too!

Anonymous said...

Wow, nine Murakamis in one year- that's impressive! I had always wondered about this book because of the title (I'm not a Kafka fan) but it sounds good. Will add it to the list.

Rebecca Chapman said...

You are really going well with the Murakami's. I gave up after my first attempt, I just didn't like the writing, but I am determined to try again soon

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I'm looking forward to this book, so I was really happy to see that you enjoyed it.

tediousandbrief said...

I similarly went though a load of Murakami books in one year. Kafka was one I really liked, too (apart from the section you said you skipped.)

I'm looking forward to seeing your review on Hard Boiled Wonderland. That was probably my favorite along with Norwegian Wood, and has a similar alternating-chapter design as Kafka on the Shore.

@parridhlantern said...

This was my first Murakami, & it sent me on a journey I'm still enjoying, although am getting impatient for 1q84 (lol). As for the older woman, I fell a bit in love with her

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.. interesting, I can't remember any explicit sex scene in this book! I hope you enjoy Hard Boiled Wonderland, one of my favourite Murakami. I just brought home "Blind Willow, sleeping women" yesterday. Hope to read it soon.

Novroz said...

This is my 1st Murakami's book. I enjoyed it a lot and makes me want to read more books by him.

Great review Mel

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this one as well. I'll admit that reading it gave me a compulsive need to buy Schubert's piano sonatas.

Anonymous said...

Great review. This was the second or third Murakami that I read and, unlike some of the others that I read slowly and allowed to digest, I ripped through this one. I just couldn't put it down. I am really looking forward to when the English translation of his new one is released as I have read all of his other books.

Mel u said...

SH-Hard Boiled Wonderland is on My this year list

Mystica-thanks as always

Suko-yes it is a great title for a book-makes you curious-

booksploring-I hope you enjoy the book and will post your thoughts on it

Mel u said...

Samstillreading-I will read Hardboiled soon, I hope

Becky-consider a second try-

Bibliophile by the Sea-I hope you will share your thoughts on this book when the time comes

Tediousandbrief-a lot of people seem to regard Hardboiled as their favorite-thanks so much for visiting my blog

Parish Lantern-I am also looking forward to 1q84-I guess it will be quite long and may come to us in sections

Bibliojunkie-I am looking forward to Hard boiled and Midnight's Children

MJ-it would be interested to listen to the music of Schubert and others mentioned while reading the book-thanks for your blog visit and comment

nicole said...

I look forward to your post on Hard-Boiled Wonderland. In some ways it's so typical of Murakami yet the extreme split between the two stories is so different; at first I found it distracting but then it all came together in a very Murakami way.