Kafka on the Shore

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami


Summary

On the eve of his fifteenth birthday Kafka Tamura prepares to run away from his home in Nakano, Tokyo. Plagued by the absence of his mother and older sister as well as a cursed prophecy, Kafka dreams of running away in order to escape both his destiny and a form of himself. With every bit of courage he has, Kafka gathers all the money he can manage, packs his things, and jumps aboard a night bus headed for Shikoku.

Meanwhile, Nakata is an elderly man living in Nakano Ward on a meager subsidy from the government. Permanently disabled by a strange accident that occurred during his schooldays around the middle of the second World War, Nakata is unable to communicate clearly with other people. However, he finds solace in looking for family cats that have gone missing from around his neighborhood. What no one knows is Nakata spends most of his days talking (yes, talking) to the these cats in order to discover the whereabouts of the families’ missing pets. But when one day a certain cat goes missing from its beloved family, Nakata finds himself wrapped up in a dark situation that forces him to leave Nakano for good.

Through fleets of destiny too great to be simple coincidence or chance, Kafka and Nakata’s paths wind together to create a brilliant story full of mystery, misplaced time, magic, love, loss, and self-discovery.


Memorable Quotes

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. 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 you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step, There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine,” (page 3).

“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?” (page 7).

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its 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,” (page 9).

“Some time in the middle of the night a hard rain begins to fall. I wake up every once in a while, part the chintzy curtain at the window and gaze out at the highway rushing by. Raindrops beat against the glass, blurring street lights alongside the road that stretch off into the distance at identical intervals as if they’d been set down to measure the earth,” (page 10).

“‘Gosh, what a long trip,’ she says tiredly. ‘I thought my lower back was going to give out. And my neck’s killing me. You aren’t going to catch me on an all-night bus again. I’m taking the plane now on, even if it’s more expensive. Turbulence, hijackings—I don’t care. Give me a plane any day,'” (page 32).

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out from between their pages—a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers,” (page 39).

“‘Your father sounds like an alien from outer space or something,’ Sakura says. ‘Like he came from some far-off planet, took on human form, kidnapped an earth woman and then had you. Just so he could have more descendants. Your mother found out, got frightened and ran away. Like in some film-noir science-fiction flick.’

I have no idea what to say,” (page 95).

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit about our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology… But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us for ever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of those,” (page 104).

“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear,” (page 148).

“‘Speaking of contradictions,’ Oshima suddenly says, ‘when I first met you I felt a kind of contradiction in you. You’re seeking something, but at the same time you’re running away from all you’re worth,'” (page 164).

“The fish struck people, cars and roofs, but not apparently, from such a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky—it was just positively apocalyptic,” (page 181).

“‘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. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors  in judgement can be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here,” (page 196).

“I look for the 15-year-old girl in her and find her straight away. She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. If you look carefully though, you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it,” (page 267).

“My second day on the mountain passes leisurely, seamlessly. The only thing that distinguishes one day from the next is the weather. If the weather were the same I couldn’t tell one day from another. Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’d all blur into one. Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea,” (page 393).

“Even so, as I walk I get the feeling that something, somewhere, is watching me, listening to me, holding its breath, blending into the background, watching my every move. Somewhere far off, something’s listening to all the sounds I make, trying to guess where I’m going and why. I try not to think about it. The more you think about illusions, the more they’ll swell up and take on form. And no longer be an illusion,” (page 413).

“‘It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,’ Crow tells me. ‘She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back as it was, right?’

I nod. ‘You can never put it back as it was.’ He’s hit the nail on the head,” (page 430).


Thoughts

**First note: I’d like to address the quotes I chose to include in my “Memorable Quotes” section. If you read through every quote I included, (which I understand is a lot so no judgement from me if you didn’t) you may end up with the impression that this book is extremely long-winded and too caught up in itself to be enjoyable; maybe even cheesy in a sudo hyper-intellectual way. And while there are brief bits of overwhelming themes present in this specific book, that would be a misplaced impression overall. I want to stress that I chose those specific quotes because they stood out and were some of the most meaningful lines of text to me as a reader. But overall, the book is about five hundred pages so those quotes aren’t exactly representative of the writing style of the entire book. In fact, Kafka on the Shore is incredibly easy to read as it’s engaging and written beautifully.

This is my third Murakami book I’ve read and it certainly won’t be my last. Thinking back on my experience reading Kafka on the Shore I can confidently say its strongest point is the atmosphere it creates. When I think about Murakami’s books in general I mentally correspond them with colors. This may sound a little weird, but in my mind color and atmosphere are very much linked. And to give a better example of what I mean, I thought it would be fun to include some pictures of the places the characters visit in Kafka on the Shore. 

So to start, below I’ve pasted a general map of Japan I found online so you can see the distance between Tokyo and Shikoku.

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Map of Japan (credit: shutterstock)

Next is a picture of some buildings in Nakano Ward where both Kafka and Nakata begin their journeys.

 

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Buildings in Nakano Ward (credit: all photos by koji fujii  / nacasa & partners inc.
images courtesy of takeshi yamagata architects) Link: http://www.designboom.com/architecture/takeshi-yamagata-architects-chojyabashi-building/

The next set of pictures capture the beauty of the Great Seto Bridge leading into Shikoku. When Nakata and Hoshino drive to Shikoku, Nakata describes a breath-taking bridge and I believe this is the one he is referencing.

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View of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)
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View from the top of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)

 

Lastly, here is a picture I found of Takamatsu City on Shikoku Island. This is one of the main destinations for both Kafka and Nakata.

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Takamatsu City (credit: http://americanruruoni.weebly.com/kanonji.html )

One thing that delights and frustrates me is the simple fact that I can’t explain to you what this specific book means. I have ideas about certain allusions or themes, but it would take too long to explain and I highly doubt I could. Whenever I try everything just becomes a jumbled mess in my mind. As with After Dark, there are many things left unsaid and circumstances which ripple in the wake of the main plot. This used to bother me, but I think I’m slowly getting used to it. To me, this is the magic of Murakami and Kafka on the Shore. I love Haruki Murakami’s writing, although at times I think he overuses metaphors a little too much. (But hey, he writes them elegantly af so I think I can forgive him.) There is a mystical feeling I get whenever I read something he’s written even if it’s just a scene describing someone hitchhiking.

The characters all have distinct personalities which makes you fall in love with them and cry for them when the time comes. Kafka is interesting, but I think my favorite character is Nakata. In a way, I want to think Murakami meant for his readers to fall in love with Nakata. I love him not just because he talks to cats, (although that in itself is strangely endearing) but because he is able to let go of time and live in the moment in the most simple and heartwarming of ways.

Kafka on the otherhand, is complicated. He’s broken inside, and haunted by a dark prophecy. Although he does manage to somewhat find his way, he becomes even more lost and confused as he begins to work at a library and fall in love with the older woman who runs it. I won’t spoil too much, but the identity of the woman also plays into part of Kafka’s confusion.

I’m not sure what else I can say about Kafka on the Shore without spoiling it. The story seems simple at first; a runaway and an old man whose life turns upside down, but it becomes much more than that. Fish fall from the sky, cats lead humans to new discoveries, people face sexual awakenings, and a young boy runs through a forest that represents the complexities of his inner psyche. All I can say is you’ll have to read this book to discover what I’m talking about.


Extra Resources

http://modernist-magazines.org/?q=node/808 (A cool page I found that basically maps out the locations described in Kafka on the Shore.)

http://www.harukimurakami.com/q_and_a/questions-for-haruki-murakami-about-kafka-on-the-shore (A link to Murakami’s website where he answers some questions about Kafka on the Shore and his writing.)

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