When asked about the secret to understanding his novel, author Haruki Murakami had this to say: “Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”
Kafka on the Shore is as described by Murakami as “filled with riddles”. It is a labyrinth of prose that may prove to be utterly mystifying upon first read. It is a novel that, while being a bona fide page-turner, is a book that challenges the reader to really stop and think about it. A deep dive into the themes and ideas conveyed in this book undoubtedly is a rewarding experience.
Kafka on the Shore is somewhat of a departure from Murakami’s usual work. Unlike books like Norwegian Wood or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which feature protagonists in their twenties to thirties, Kafka on the Shore focuses on a fifteen-year-old boy and an elderly man. For those who enjoy the magical realism elements of Murakami’s work, Kafka on the Shore may in fact be his finest endeavour into the genre.
It is a book quite unlike any other I personally have read, including other books in Murakami’s catalogue. Murakami is truly unafraid to break from convention here and truly get weird with this book. Whether it be the bizarre inclusion of characters—in the personification of Johnnie Walker and Colonel Harland Sanders—or the oedipal curse placed upon fifteen-year-old protagonist, Kafka Tamura, by his father, Murakami does not appear to have any filter in this novel; while for most authors that would be a dangerous game to play, Murakami crafts a mind bending and emotionally raw journey for both his central protagonists here.
Kafka on the Shore is a labyrinth that explores the realms of the conscious and the unconscious. While at first many events in the novel appear to be random or disconnected, after some thought, you’ll come to connect the dots and realise the elaborate links between the occurrences—be they grand or small. Perhaps the crowning achievement of Kafka on the Shore is the seamless way in which Murakami weaves reality and dreams, leaving the reader to ponder what is actually occurring—be it some of the events, none of them, or even all of them. The way in which the world of dreams and reality interact in Kafka on the Shore is truly profound.
This is a book best read without any prior knowledge, or at the very least the bare minimum of information. Seeing this story unfold, and coming to be invested in these characters and their personal journeys, was a delightful experience. There are still countless riddles left to solve in this novel; but even as I read the final pages, no closer to the answers than I was at page one, I felt a sense of satisfaction with the novel’s conclusion.
Kafka on the Shore is a truly mystifying novel, as one has come to expect from the Japanese literary master Haruki Murakami. It may very well be one of his finest works, posing questions of identity, spiritualism, dreams, and reality; there is a lot to interpret and sink your teeth into in this 500+ page masterpiece.