Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Posted April 29, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Kafka on the Shore (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2002
Pages: 480
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Library Book

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Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a fifteen year old book named Kafka who runs away from home to find his mother and sister. Although the alternate chapters tell the story of Nakata; a strange old man who has the ability to talk to cats. Like many of Haruki Murakami’s books, Kafka on the Shore blends pop culture with magical realism in order to explore the psyche of the characters involved.

It is often hard to try and give an overview of a Murakami book because they tend to come out weird and I do not want to give the impression that his novels are not worth attempting. For Kafka on the Shore, the magical realism allows the reader to explore the psychological mind of fifteen year old Kafka Tamune. Not only is Kakfa a young man discovering his sexuality, Sigmund Freud would probably suggest that he also has an Oedipus complex and has developed an unhealthy obsession with his mother and sister.

According to Freud, an Oedipus complex stems from the unconscious mind and normally caused by the repression of a mother (or father) figure. Freudian psychoanalysis theory suggests that this is a key psychological experience needed for normal sexual development. However if it is unsuccessful at resolving it may lead to neurosis, paedophilia, or homosexuality. Without going into the problematic thinking of Sigmund Freud, this does make for an interesting analysis of Kafka’s journey throughout the book, especially with his interactions between Sakura and Miss Saeki.

If we continue looking at this novel through the lens of psychoanalysis theory, we might even get some interesting insights into Nakata. I always thought the loss of mental faculties was due to the psychological trauma, he experienced as a young boy. He was one of sixteen schoolchildren picking mushrooms in a field trip towards the end of World War II, when they were all rendered unconscious from a mysterious light in the sky. However it has also been suggested that maybe Kafka and Nakata are two different parts of the same person.

Every time I read a Haruki Murakami, I am reminded of his brilliance (with the exception of 1Q84), and I want to explore more of his works. I am also reminded that I need to learn a whole lot more about psychoanalytical theories, and how much it would help with books like Kafka on the Shore. For me this was a bildungsroman book about sexual development and memories. However, I found myself more interested in the chapters centred on Kafka over those about Nakata but maybe that was because I understood them a little better.

Yet again Haruki Murakami has impressed me with Kafka on the Shore and I am eager to pick up more of his books. I know magical realism can be scary for some people but I love the way Murakami uses it to explore the mind. My only real criticism of this book is that it was a little bloated and could have been trimmed down a little and still achieve the same. This might be due to an aversion to big books that I really need to overcome and not a true reflection on Murakami. I highly recommend giving this author a go if you have never tried him but Kafka on the Shore is not a good starting point; may I suggest trying Norwegian Wood first.


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