Synopses & Reviews
With Kafka on the Shore
, Haruki Murakami gives us a novel every bit as ambitious and expansive as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
, which has been acclaimed both here and around the world for its uncommon ambition and achievement, and whose still-growing popularity suggests that it will be read and admired for decades to come.
This magnificent new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour de force of metaphysical reality, it is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.
Extravagant in its accomplishment, Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world's truly great storytellers at the height of his powers.
"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. Agent, Amanda Urban at ICM. 60,000 first printing. (Jan. 24)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Murakami is of course himself an immensely reader-friendly novelist, and never has he offered more enticing fare than this enchantingly inventive tale. A masterpiece, entirely Nobel-worthy." Kirkus Reviews
"Murakami's novel, though wearying at times and confusing at others, has the faintly absurd loft of some great festive balloon. He addresses the fantastic and the natural, each with the same mix of gravity and lightness." Los Angeles Times
"[W]hile 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." Laura Miller, The New York Times Book Review
"However vague its allusions and overbearing its pretensions, however needlessly jive its English translation ('Jeez Louise'), this book makes for a beguiling and enveloping experience." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[Kafka] may be the Japanese author's weirdest novel yet, but it's also one of his best....What ties all this together is Murakami's unflappable, enchanting prose: hip but companionable, it keeps you coming back for more." Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
"[A] real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender....[I]t seems more gripping than it has a right to be and less moving, perhaps, than the author wanted it to be." John Updike, The New Yorker
"Parts of Murakami's story are violently gruesome and sexually explicit, and the plot line following Nakata is rather eerie and disturbing. Yet the bulk of this narrative is erudite, lyrical, and compelling; followers of Murakami's work should approve. Recommended." Library Journal
"The voluptuous pleasure of Haruki Murakami's enthralling fictions...reminds me of dreaming....And, like a dream, what this dazzling novel means or whether it means anything at all we may never know. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Kafka on the Shore is Murakami's biggest novel in a decade and one of the most fun to read....[I]t feels like a return to Murakami's most whimsical métier." Orlando Sentinel
"Perhaps it needn't be said that this meta-fictional fun house isn't perfect, but underpinning it all is a surprisingly patient, deeply affecting meditation on perfection itself, specifically romantic perfection the obsessive greed in pursuing it, the selfish isolation that comes from achieving it, the soul-killing (and also selfish) grief of outliving it, of being left, inevitably, with nothing but its fading memory." Jon Zobenica, the Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
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. His books include After the Quake; Dance Dance Dance; The Elephant Vanishes; Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; Norwegian Wood; South of the Border, West of the Sun; Sputnik Sweetheart; Underground; A Wild Sheep Chase; and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, all available in Vintage paperback, as is Vintage Murakami, a selection of his finest work.
Reading Group Guide
1. The first character to speak in Kafka on the Shore
is the “boy named Crow” [p. 3]. Who is he? What part of Kafka Tamuras psyche does he represent?
2. “Kafka,” we later learn, means “crow” in Czech. What relationship is Murakami trying to suggest between Franz Kafka, Kafka Tamura, the boy named Crow, and actual crows? At what significant moments do crows appear in the novel? What symbolic value do they have?
3. When Kafka meets Sakura on the bus, they agree that “even chance meetings . . . are the results of karma” and that “things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events theres no such thing as coincidence” [p. 33]. What role does fate, or meaningful coincidence, play in the novel? Is it karma that determines Kafkas destiny?
4. Much of the novel alternates between Kafkas story and Nakatas. What effects does Murakami create by moving the reader back and forth between parallel narratives? What is the relationship between Nakata and Kafka?
5. When Kafka is a young boy, his father tells him: “Someday you will murder your father and be with your mother” [p. 202], the same destiny as Oedipus. Kafkas father also tells him that he will sleep with his sister and that there is nothing he can do to prevent this prophecy from being fulfilled. How do Kafkas attempts to escape his fate bring him closer to fulfilling it?
6. The phrase “for the time being” is repeated throughout Kafka on the Shore. Why has Murakami chosen to use this qualifying statement so often? How is the conventional concept of time stretched and challenged by events in the novel? Why does Miss Saeki tell Kafka: “Times rules dont apply here. Time expands, then contracts, all in tune with the stirrings of the heart” [p. 219]?
7. In what ways are the boundaries between past and present, dreaming and waking, fantasy and reality blurred and often erased in Kafka on the Shore?
8. The teacher in charge of the children who lost consciousness in the woods during World War II writes to her professor many years later and tells him: “I find the worldview that runs through all of your publications very convincing—namely that as individuals each of us is extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a prototypical memory” [p. 96]. How are the main characters of the novel—Kafka, Nakata, Oshima, Miss Saeki—“extremely isolated”? In what ways do they share a “prototypical memory”? What would that memory be?
9. Kafka Tamura seems, in some mysterious way, to be both Miss Saekis son and the ghost of her long-dead lover. How does Murakami intend us to understand this shifting and apparently impossible dual identity?
10. What is the relationship between Nakatas quest for the “entrance stone” and Kafkas journey into the forest?
11. In what ways can Kafka on the Shore be read as a love story?
12. The supernatural shape-shifter, who takes the form of Colonel Sanders, tells Hoshino that he is neither God nor Buddha but a kind of “overseer, supervising something to make sure it fulfills its original role. Checking the correlation between different worlds, making sure things are in the right order” [p. 284]. What are these different worlds? Is Colonel Sanders talking about parallel universes?
13. Kafka on the Shore is, for the most part, a realistic novel, yet it contains many magical elements—Nakatas ability to talk with cats and make fish fall from the sky, the shape-shifting Colonel Sanders, the middle-aged Miss Saeki visiting Kafka as her fifteen-year-old self. What is Murakami saying about the nature of reality and our beliefs about it through these seemingly impossible episodes?
14. At the end of the novel, Oshima tells Kafka, “Youve grown up” [p. 463]. In what ways has Kafka been changed by his experience? What are the most important things he has learned? Why does he feel he has entered “a brand-new world” [p. 467]?
“As powerful as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. . . . Reading Murakami . . . is a striking experience
in consciousness expansion.”
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your groups discussion of Kafka on the Shore, the magical new novel by the internationally acclaimed author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami. Part bildungsroman, part metaphysical thriller, part meditation on the elusive nature of time, Kafka on the Shore displays all the talents that have made Haruki Murakami one of the most beloved novelists in the world today.