Book Review: Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

kafka

“It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. It’s just like Yeats said: In dreams begin responsibilities.”

Through this book, Haruki Murakami explores the theme of consciousness and unconsciousness. It’s very interesting, since the book follows 2 storylines simultaneously.  For every odd numbered chapter, it is about a boy named Kafka Tamura, who lives with his dad; a famous sculptor, in Tokyo. On his 15th birthday, he makes up his mind to run away from home with hope to break the Oedipus curse that his father made about him. Meaning that based on the curse, Kafka will kill his own father and sleep with his mother and sister.

Meanwhile, for every even numbered chapter, the story is about Nakata, a special elderly man who lost his memory because of a tragedy when he was only 9 years old. For the rest of his life, it was described that he lost the ability to read and write. Though in return, he was given the ability to talk to cats. 

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you.”

Their paths intertwined when there is a continuous physical connection between Nakata and Kafka’s life even though they did not meet or know each other at all. Forcing Nakata  to fulfill one of Kafka’s curse; to kill his father, through an unexplained fate. 

So towards the end of the book, Kafka slowly learns that he can’t possibly escape the curse. In a way it symbolizes Kafka’s crude desire. Something that exists within his unconsciousness. Therefore the harder he tries to escape it, it seems like he’s only getting closer to fulfilling it.

Fate is actually not the only concept that’s vaguely explained throughout the book. In fact, there’s no concrete explanation about most of the surreal incidents that happened in ‘Kafka on the Shore’. From fish and leeches raining from the sky everytime Nakata is exposed to violence, to Kafka seeing and falling in love with the spirit of a beautiful young girl in the Komura Memorial Library (a place Kafka always visit all the time in his journey); whom he believes as the younger version of his mother.

And even though so far I only talk about Kafka and Nakata, the side characters of the story also contribute a lot in making the story engaging to read. There’s Miss Saeki, the owner of Komura Memorial Library. She’s haunted by her dark past and dreams about her late boyfriend. There is Oshima, Kafka’s close friend who works in the Komura Memorial Library who holds an extensive amount of knowledge about philosophy and Japanese mythology. He was mentioned to have experienced prejudice regarding his choice of identity and sexuality, but still stays as an overall nice person.

This combination of bizarre plot, mysterious characters, and the use of figurative language are some of the aspects that distinguish Haruki Murakami works with other stories. Everything in ‘Kafka on the Shore’ feels so dream-like, yet so vivid. While reading, the narrative evokes our imagination to feel the surroundings. What does it look like, what kind of emotions that the character feels, what sounds we would hear, and more.

For me, the novel tells that it is nearly impossible for us to be able to understand our own fate. Even if fate itself might be something that affects our life the most. And through the writing style, the reader may learn how to capture the five senses using language. But at the end, I believe that everyone may learn a lot of different things from ‘Kafka on the Shore’.

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.”

However, for those who want to read this book, it’s better to know that violence is usually described explicitly in certain chapters. And it might be triggering for some people.

There are also some controversial thoughts and concepts that not everyone might agree on. Therefore it’s way better if you keep an open mind while reading the book. As it might stirred up your perspectives towards these certain concepts and leave you wondering about your understanding about your mind and the world around you.

“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.”

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