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Kafka on the Shore [Hardcover]

Haruki Murakami
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (442 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The opening pages of a Haruki Murakami novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen--it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore--the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply.

Joining the rich literature of runaways, Kafka On The Shore follows the solitary, self-disciplined schoolboy Kafka Tamura as he hops a bus from Tokyo to the randomly chosen town of Takamatsu, reminding himself at each step that he has to be "the world¹s toughest fifteen-year-old." He finds a secluded private library in which to spend his days--continuing his impressive self-education--and is befriended by a clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian, Miss Saeki, whom he fantasizes may be his long-lost mother. Meanwhile, in a second, wilder narrative spiral, an elderly Tokyo man named Nakata veers from his calm routine by murdering a stranger. An unforgettable character, beautifully delineated by Murakami, Nakata can speak with cats but cannot read or write, nor explain the forces drawing him toward Takamatsu and the other characters.

To say that the fantastic elements of Kafka On The Shore are complicated and never fully resolved is not to suggest that the novel fails. Although it may not live up to Murakami's masterful The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Nakata and Kafka's fates keep the reader enthralled to the final pages, and few will complain about the loose threads at the end. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Previous books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood have established Murakami as a true original, a fearless writer possessed of a wildly uninhibited imagination and a legion of fiercely devoted fans. In this latest addition to the author's incomparable oeuvre, 15-year-old Kafka Tamura runs away from home, both to escape his father's oedipal prophecy and to find his long-lost mother and sister. As Kafka flees, so too does Nakata, an elderly simpleton whose quiet life has been upset by a gruesome murder. (A wonderfully endearing character, Nakata has never recovered from the effects of a mysterious World War II incident that left him unable to read or comprehend much, but did give him the power to speak with cats.) What follows is a kind of double odyssey, as Kafka and Nakata are drawn inexorably along their separate but somehow linked paths, groping to understand the roles fate has in store for them. Murakami likes to blur the boundary between the real and the surreal—we are treated to such oddities as fish raining from the sky; a forest-dwelling pair of Imperial Army soldiers who haven't aged since WWII; and a hilarious cameo by fried chicken king Colonel Sanders—but he also writes touchingly about love, loneliness and friendship. Occasionally, the writing drifts too far into metaphysical musings—mind-bending talk of parallel worlds, events occurring outside of time—and things swirl a bit at the end as the author tries, perhaps too hard, to make sense of things. But by this point, his readers, like his characters, will go just about anywhere Murakami wants them to, whether they "get" it or not.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) merges Western culture and Japanese history to paint a surreal portrait of two troubled souls searching for—well, something. With Japan’s wartime history never far in the distance, the author stresses the value of personal freedom and identity in a confused world. And confused it is, with an absurd, anchorless plot "tinted the kandy-colored tangerine-flake of Tom Wolfe’s early psychedelic pieces" (Los Angeles Times). Although Murakami raises serious themes—love, isolation, identity, nonconformity—he has a surprisingly light touch. While most critics felt the journey was important, a few complained that nothing meaningful happened throughout the novel. Kafka’s story was particularly problematic. Perhaps that’s what life is: a series of random connections to which we desperately imbue meaning.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

From Booklist

Acclaimed Japanese novelist Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1997, among others) navigates the surreal world in this tale of two troubled souls whose lives are entwined by fate. Fifteen-year-old Tokyo resident Kafka Tamura runs away from home to escape a murderous curse inflicted by his famous sculptor father. Elderly Satoru Nakata wanders his way through each day after a mysterious childhood accident turns his mind into a blank slate. The relationship between the strange strangers isn't revealed until the end of the novel, whose precarious scenarios include a grisly killing, a rainstorm of leeches, and a freezer lined with the severed heads of cats ("Cut-off heads of all colors and sizes, arranged on three shelves like oranges at a fruit stand"). The book's title comes from a painting, poem, and song linked to a tormented library matron, who inhabits a limbo between the present and past. Replete with riddles, exhaustingly eccentric characters (a pimp dressed as Colonel Sanders, a Hegel-quoting whore), and imagery ranging from the sublime to the grotesque, Murakami's literary high-wire acts have earned him both boos and ahs from connoisseurs of contemporary fiction. What side you come down on depends on your predilection for the perverse. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“As powerful as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. . . . Reading Murakami . . . is a striking experience in consciousness expansion.” –The Chicago Tribune

“An insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”
The New Yorker

“If he has not achieved that status already, Haruki Murakami is on course to becoming the most widely read Japanese writer outside Japan, past or present.”
New York Times

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into thirty-four languages, and the most recent of his many honors is the Yomiuri Literary Prize, whose previous recipients include Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, and Kobo Abe.

From The Washington Post

If bizarre things are happening in Japan, then there must be a new novel by Haruki Murakami. America's favorite Japanese novelist could publish this anonymously, and his fans would instantly recognize it as his. And for first-time readers, Kafka on the Shore is an excellent demonstration of why he's deservedly famous, both here and in his native land. He writes uncanny, philosophical, postmodern fiction that's actually fun to read; he's a more serious Tom Robbins, a less dense Thomas Pynchon. Like those two, he mixes high and low culture, especially ours: Two of his novels are named after Western pop songs ("Dance Dance Dance" and "Norwegian Wood"), and his characters are more likely to see a film by Truffaut than one by Kurosawa. In this new novel, characters may occasionally discuss The Tale of Genji and the novels of Natsume Soseki, but the presiding influences are Plato, Sophocles and, as the title indicates, Franz Kafka.

It would be easy to make this novel sound goofy: There are talking cats, sudden downpours of fish and leeches, a ghost that takes the form of Col. Sanders pimping in a back alley of Takamatsu, another character who dresses up as the Johnnie Walker whiskey icon and collects the souls of cats for a magic flute, a gorgeous prostitute who quotes Henri Bergson and Hegel, and an "entrance stone" to another dimension. It would be just as easy to make the novel sound ponderous: There are many discussions of Greek tragedy, Plato's myth about the origin of the sexes, predestination, various metaphysical systems, musicology, the nature of symbolism and metaphor, the ways of Buddha and the Tao, and grim memories of atrocities committed during World War II. The wonderful thing is the mash-up Murakami creates from this disparate material, resulting in a novel that is intellectually profound but feels "like an Indiana Jones movie or something," as one character aptly notes.

Or something. The novel consists of two parallel narratives told in alternating chapters. One features a bright but unhappy 15-year-old boy named "Kafka" Tamura -- he adopted the name partly because he likes his fiction but also because "Kafka" is Czech for "crow," with whose solitary nature he identifies -- who runs away from home because of an Oedipal foreboding that he will murder his father and sleep with his mother. (His mother abandoned him at age 4, and he hasn't seen her or his older sister since.) He leaves Tokyo for the southern island of Shikoku and spends most of his time at a private library run by a 21-year-old "hemophiliac of undetermined sex" named Oshima and a mysterious, elegant woman named Miss Saeki, old enough to be his mother. Both of them play key roles in helping the runaway find himself and come to terms with his dark destiny.

The other narrative deals with a retarded, illiterate man in his sixties named Satoru Nakata, who as a child underwent an inexplicable experience during World War II that erased his memory and stunted his intellectual growth. In recompense for that loss, however, he has the ability to communicate with cats and control the weather. (He's the one responsible for those downpours.) He gets involved with the cat-soul collector and commits an act that forces him to flee Tokyo. He hooks up with a truck driver named Hoshino -- just a regular guy who favors aloha shirts, Ray-Bans and a Chunichi Dragons baseball cap -- who agrees to help the old guy. They too make their way to Shikoku on a kind of metaphysical quest for an "entrance stone" that Nakata must open and close. As another character says (this is a very self-conscious text, frequently commenting on itself), it's "like some film noir science-fiction flick."

On one level, the novel is about a 15-year-old boy's rite of passage into the adult world, but on a larger level it's a meditation on Plato's notion (voiced in the "Symposium," as Oshima explains to both Kafka and the reader) that each of us is looking for a soul mate to complete us. Hoshino finds one in Nakata, who reminds him of a dim-witted but devoted disciple of the Buddha, but who also fills in for a beloved grandfather. Kafka finds one in Miss Saeki, who appears to him in dreams both as the 15-year-old girl she once was and at her present age. And though Kafka and Nakata never meet, their parallel actions complement each other on a metaphysical plane. Hermaphroditic Oshima -- the most self-possessed and knowledgeable character in the novel -- exemplifies the original state that Plato said the soul enjoyed before it was split into halves.

Murakami's spin on this theme and the Oedipus myth is daringly original and compulsively readable, enabled by Philip Gabriel's wonderfully fluent translation. Kafka on the Shore is warmly recommended; read it to your cat.

Reviewed by Steven Moore
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Cash isn't the only thing I take from my father's study when I leave home. I take a small, old gold lighter--I like the design and feel of it--and a folding knife with a really sharp blade. Made to skin deer, it has a five-inch blade and a nice heft. Probably something he bought on one of his trips abroad. I also take a sturdy, bright pocket flashlight out of a drawer. Plus sky blue Revo sunglasses to disguise my age.

I think about taking my father's favorite Sea-Dweller Oyster Rolex. It's a beautiful watch, but something flashy will only attract attention. My cheap plastic Casio watch with an alarm and stopwatch will do just fine, and might actually be more useful. Reluctantly, I return the Rolex to its drawer.

From the back of another drawer I take out a photo of me and my older sister when we were little, the two of us on a beach somewhere with grins plastered across our faces. My sister's looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It's like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that's half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness. For my part I'm staring straight ahead, undaunted, at the camera. Nobody else is there at the beach. My sister and I have on swimsuits--hers a red floral-print one-piece, mine some baggy old blue trunks. I'm holding a plastic stick in my hand. White foam is washing over our feet.

Who took this, and where and when, I have no clue. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just that one photo? The whole thing is a total mystery. I must have been three, my sister nine. Did we ever really get along that well? I have no memory of ever going to the beach with my family. No memory of going anywhere with them. No matter, though--there is no way I'm going to leave that photo with my father, so I put it in my wallet. I don't have any photos of my mother. My father had thrown them all away.

After giving it some thought I decide to take the cell phone with me. Once he finds out I've taken it, my father will probably get the phone company to cut off service. Still, I toss it into my backpack, along with the adapter. Doesn't add much weight, so why not. When it doesn't work anymore I'll just chuck it.

Just the bare necessities, that's all I need. Choosing which clothes to take is the hardest thing. I'll need a couple sweaters and pairs of underwear. But what about shirts and trousers? Gloves, mufflers, shorts, a coat? There's no end to it. One thing I do know, though. I don't want to wander around some strange place with a huge backpack that screams out, Hey, everybody, check out the runaway! Do that and someone is sure to sit up and take notice. Next thing you know the police will haul me in and I'll be sent straight home. If I don't wind up in some gang first.

Any place cold is definitely out, I decide. Easy enough, just choose the opposite--a warm place. Then I can leave the coat and gloves behind, and get by with half the clothes. I pick out wash-and-wear-type things, the lightest ones I have, fold them neatly, and stuff them in my backpack. I also pack a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolls up nice and tight, toilet stuff, a rain poncho, notebook and pen, a Walkman and ten discs--got to have my music--along with a spare rechargeable battery. That's about it. No need for any cooking gear, which is too heavy and takes up too much room, since I can buy food at the local convenience store.

It takes a while but I'm able to subtract a lot of things from my list. I add things, cross them off, then add a whole other bunch and cross them off, too.

My fifteenth birthday is the ideal time to run away from home. Any earlier and it'd be too soon. Any later and I would have missed my chance.

During my first two years in junior high, I'd worked out, training myself for this day. I started practicing judo in the first couple years of grade school, and still went sometimes in junior high. But I didn't join any school teams. Whenever I had the time I'd jog around the school grounds, swim, or go to the local gym. The young trainers there gave me free lessons, showing me the best kind of stretching exercises and how to use the fitness machines to bulk up. They taught me which muscles you use every day and which ones can only be built up with machines, even the correct way to do a bench press. I'm pretty tall to begin with, and with all this exercise I've developed pretty broad shoulders and pecs. Most strangers would take me for seventeen. If I ran away looking my actual age, you can imagine all the problems that would cause.

Other than the trainers at the gym and the housekeeper who comes to our house every other day--and of course the bare minimum required to get by at school--I barely talk to anyone. For a long time my father and I have avoided seeing each other. We live under the same roof, but our schedules are totally different. He spends most of his time in his studio, far away, and I do my best to avoid him.

The school I'm going to is a private junior high for kids who are upper-class, or at least rich. It's the kind of school where, unless you really blow it, you're automatically promoted to the high school on the same campus. All the students dress neatly, have nice straight teeth, and are boring as hell. Naturally I have zero friends. I've built a wall around me, never letting anybody inside and trying not to venture outside myself. Who could like somebody like that? They all keep an eye on me, from a distance. They might hate me, or even be afraid of me, but I'm just glad they didn't bother me. Because I had tons of things to take care of, including spending a lot of my free time devouring books in the school library.

I always paid close attention to what was said in class, though. Just like the boy named Crow suggested.

The facts and techniques or whatever they teach you in class isn't going to be very useful in the real world, that's for sure. Let's face it, teachers are basically a bunch of morons. But you've got to remember this: you're running away from home. You probably won't have any chance to go to school anymore, so like it or not you'd better absorb whatever you can while you've got the chance. Become like a sheet of blotting paper and soak it all in. Later on you can figure out what to keep and what to unload.

I did what he said, like I almost always do. My brain like a sponge, I focused on every word said in class and let it all sink in, figured out what it meant, and committed everything to memory. Thanks to this, I barely had to study outside of class, but always came out near the top on exams.

My muscles were getting hard as steel, even as I grew more withdrawn and quiet. I tried hard to keep my emotions from showing so that no one--classmates and teachers alike--had a clue what I was thinking. Soon I'd be launched into the rough adult world, and I knew I'd have to be tougher than anybody if I wanted to survive.

My eyes in the mirror are cold as a lizard's, my expression fixed and unreadable. I can't remember the last time I laughed or even showed a hint of a smile to other people. Even to myself.

I'm not trying to imply I can keep up this silent, isolated facade all the time. Sometimes the wall I've erected around me comes crumbling down. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes, before I even realize what's going on, there I am--naked and defenseless and totally confused. At times like that I always feel an omen calling out to me, like a dark, omnipresent pool of water.

A dark, omnipresent pool of water.

It was probably always there, hidden away somewhere. But when the time comes it silently rushes out, chilling every cell in your body. You drown in that cruel flood, gasping for breath. You cling to a vent near the ceiling, struggling, but the air you manage to breathe is dry and burns your throat. Water and thirst, cold and heat--these supposedly opposite elements combine to assault you.

The world is a huge space, but the space that will take you in--and it doesn't have to be very big--is nowhere to be found. You seek a voice, but what do you get? Silence. You look for silence, but guess what? All you hear over and over and over is the voice of this omen. And sometimes this prophetic voice pushes a secret switch hidden deep inside your brain.

Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, full to the banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That's it. That's my heart.

Before running away from home I wash my hands and face, trim my nails, swab out my ears, and brush my teeth. I take my time, making sure my whole body's well scrubbed. Being really clean is sometimes the most important thing there is. I gaze carefully at my face in the mirror. Genes I'd gotten from my father and mother--not that I have any recollection of what she looked like--created this face. I can do my best to not let any emotions show, keep my eyes from revealing anything, bulk up my muscles, but there's not much I can do about my looks. I'm stuck with my father's long, thick eyebrows and the deep lines between them. I could probably kill him if I wanted to--I'm sure strong enough--and I can erase my mother from my memory. But there's no way to erase the DNA they passed down to me. If I wanted to drive that away I'd have to get rid of me.

There's an omen contained in that. A mechanism buried inside of me.

A mechanism buried inside of you.

I switch off the light and leave the bathroom. A heavy, damp stillness lies over the house. The whispers of people who don't exist, the breath of the dead. I look around, standing stock-still, and take a deep breath. The clock shows three p.m., the two hands cold and distant. They're pretending to be noncommittal, but I know they'...

From AudioFile

The art of audio narration has rarely been better served than in Haruki Murakami's brilliant tale featuring two seekers of truth. Sean Barrett and Oliver Le Sueur recount the odysseys of Nakata, an old man who was left simpleminded (but able to speak with cats) by a mysterious WWII event, and Kafka Tamura, a stoic, self-disciplined 15-year-old who runs away from home to escape an Oedipal prophecy. Barrett and Le Sueur turn in superb performances. Their rich characterizations keep this blend of the real and surreal totally engrossing. Philip Gabriel's excellent translation offers a contemporary feel to Murakami's lyrical language and magical incidents. Additional kudos must go to Naxos AudioBooks for gorgeous packaging, including an enclosure listing the entire cast with bios. This is must listening. S.J.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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