Book Review: Kafka On The Shore

Anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it’s the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves” – New york times book review


There are different kinds of fiction. Sometimes it is about building a story maybe a fantasy world, a deception, a mystery, a romance or a drama. Other times there are books like the Alchemist where the focus is to convey a message. Kafka On The Shore is somewhere midway between these.


Murakami doesn’t try to convey any particular message through the book but his masterful storytelling in this bizarre, surrealistic universe leaves you grappling to find some meaning in between the lines. While he fills in a bit with his ideas, he mostly leaves it up to us to grasp and interpret the tale in our own way.


Kafka on the Shore  follows two different storylines. On one hand there is the tale of a fifteen year old boy running away from home to escape his father who has prophesied his son to undergo some very disturbing experiences.(*kinky *wink *wink, if you happen to know Murakami’s ‘style’). Kafka Tamura convinces himself that he has to be the toughest fifteen year old in order to survive. His inner voice/ Alter Ego, compares his reality to a violent sandstorm –


 You really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.


And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”


During his flight he happens upon unlikely companions. He meets Oshima, a transgender who is sorta like a mentor to him. Kafka is forced to face events he had never anticipated or even imagined to be possible. Will he escape his destiny or will he bow down to it?


And then there is also the tale of an old man, who becomes stupid after a freak “accident” when he was a kid. On the positive side he gains the ability to talk with cats. It turns out that Nataka has a very special role to play in the fate of many. He has a metaphysical mission to accomplish. Nataka is a peculiar character – for one he doesn’t talk much. Because of his mental impairment, he does not overthink as a result of which he is never worried. His way of dealing with circumstances makes you rethink about our anxieties and insecurities.


“Nakata let his body relax. switched off his mind, letting things flow through him. This was natural for him, something he’d done ever since he was a child, without a second thought. Before long the borders of his consciousness fluttered around, just like the butterflies. Beyond these borders lay a dark abyss. Occasionally his consciousness would fly over the border and hover over that dizzying, black crevasse. But Nakata wasn’t afraid of the darkness or how deep it was. And why should he be? That bottomless world of darkness, that weighty silence and chaos, was an old friend, a part of him already. Nakata understood this well. In that world there was no writing, no days of the week, no scary Governor, no opera, no BMWs. No scissors, no tall hats. On the other hand, neither were there delicious eel, no tasty bean-jam buns. Everything is there, but there are no parts. Since there are no parts, there’s no need to replace one thing with another. No need to remove anything, or add anything. You don’t have think about difficult things, just let yourself soak it all in. For Nakata, nothing could be better.”


I will not speak much about the story, because there is really no way in which I can explain or try to narrate it without sounding like complete gibberish. Rather I’ll give my interpretation of Kafka’s tale. ( I’ll have to a second read or more to completely grasp the book, on second thoughts, maybe that’s not possible…3rd year man)


Murakami is trying to convey that the world is understood through metaphors. To be clear, he doesn’t say that reality does not exist. However he uses surrealism/metaphors to convey his point. Kafka starts his journey with no idea of how he is going to survive whatsoever. He believes that he must be the toughest fifteen year old to survive. But what does it mean to be the toughest person? Murakami explains through the character of Oshima that


“Man does not choose fate. Fate chooses man. The sense of tragedy – according to Aristotle – comes, ironically enough, not from the protagonist’s weak points but from his good qualities. Do you know what I’m getting at? People are drawn deeper into tragedy not by their defects but by their virtues.

[But] we accept irony through a device called metaphor. And through that we grow and become deeper human beings.”  (Damn, such self referential)

However, it is not to be understood that Murakami is advocating fatalism but rather, courage. Courage to face. Courage to cherish memories, both wanted and unwanted, Courage to know yourself and courage to accept yourself. This is what it means to be the toughest fifteen you old.


But that is just my interpretation of this dreamy haze of a book. Between the beautifully woven passages and references to amazing literature and music, you’ll find your own answers.


P.S :  If you cannot understand without an explanation, you will not understand with an explanation” – Murakami


Ramakrishna RM


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