Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’

Nobuyoshi Araki for The New York Times

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer whose novels and short stories have been translated and admired all over the world. Murakami’s works are a true testament to the genre of Magic Realism wherein seemingly unnatural things and incidents happens in the natural world. His stories revolve around inner conflicts, the dilemmas of human existence and a spectrum of psychological topics that makes us question the working of the world. His most notable works include Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart, Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage etc. Through this unique method of narration, Murakami explores the warped realities of the human world.

“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, 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.”

Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore is a Japanese novel that was published in the year 2002. Its 2005 English translation was among “The 10 Best Books of 2005” from The New York Times and received the World Fantasy Award for 2006. The novel alternates between two different stories that are happening simultaneously. One story revolves around a teenager a teenager who is on the run from home to escape his tyrannical father and a horrendous oedipal prophecy concerning his sister and mother. He renames himself Kafka Tamura after his favourite author. The other follows the story of an elderly man named Satoru Nakata, who as a child, goes into a coma after an unknown wartime affliction during the second world war. Despite being an academically bright child, after waking up from the coma, Nakata discovers that he can no longer read, write or do any of the normal mundane activities that humans indulge in. But he gains the special ability to talk to cats. Through a series of astonishing mystical events, the two are finally forced to cross paths resulting in a few exhilarating surrealist events.  

“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. Something inside of you.

Like any other Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore is filled with symbolism, surrealist imageries, and mind-numbing parallels. With hints of time travel, hidden histories, conspiracy theories and magical underworld, the novel takes us through a rollercoaster of emotions in a world, where talking to cats, fictional characters, ghosts of a living person, raining of fishes and leeches, and opening up portals to different dimensions are all perceived into the rigid lines of reality. Through his grand narrating powers, Murakami fantastically combines elements of personal experiences, seemingly real supernatural experiences and Japanese folklore together. In most of Murakami’s works, the characters are influenced by the terrors of a post-war era all the while enthralling in the globalised community where Led Zeppelin and other global musical artists has an effect on everyday life. Music of both classical and contemporary nature plays a major role in most of his works. In this work, Murakami explores the inner turmoil and unexplored journeys existing within our minds as the two characters set out on a journey to find themselves.

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Categories: Book Review, Literature