Haruki Murakami – Kafka on the Shore

Translated title: Kafka on the Shore
Original title: 海辺のカフカ
Author: Haruki Murakami
Year: 2005

Word of Haruki Murakami’s novels reached me through a number of different channels: The Economist, best seller lists and friends (the usual way). If his works received positive comments from all three, the likelyhood that I would like him as well was quite high. Since Kafka on the Shore was the novel I had heard most about, that was the one I decided to try first.

The story is separated into two threads, and even though they become increasingly intertwined as the book progresses, they can be treated on their own, at least for the sake of this part of the review. Odd chapters tell the story of fifteen-year-old Kafka, who runs away from home to escape his father’s oedipal prophecy that Kafka will kill his father and be with not only his mother, but also his sister. He sets out to find the two and learn why they abandoned him when he was only a small child.

Even chapters focus on the old Nakata, who lost his ability to read and some of his mental faculties during a mysterious incident at the end of the Second World War. Even though he has lost much and is regarded as a retard, he has gained the ability to speak with cats, something which has enabled him an expert cat finder. Trying to find a specific cat, he runs into something which normal people would perhaps shy away from, but which Nakata sets out to solve.

On the whole, I think Kafka on the Shore is quite good. It’s a bit too wordy and too long, but other things make up for that. What other things? To begin with, I love magical realism and thus the story appeals to me. I especially like his particular way of blending Shinto-inspired magic into modern-day-Japan realism. The characters are all well-written, even though Nakata himself stands out as being the most interesting one by far. Language-wise, I have nothing to complain about. The English translation is excellent and I enjoy both the translator’s language and the way Murakami originally tells the story. Four snails to Kafka on the Shore.

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