Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore Study Guide

Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore is a surrealist novel about Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who leaves home to escape an Oedipal curse that predicts he will murder his father and have sex with his mother and sister.

Murakami alternates between chapters written from Kafka's first-person point of view and third-person chapters that follow the parallel story of Nakata, an elderly disabled man who gained the ability to speak with cats after falling into a coma as a child. While Kafka seeks refuge in a private library in Takamatsu, meeting two women who he believes could be his mother and his sister, Nakata murders a metaphysical entity who takes on the shape of the Johnnie Walker whisky brand logo and who kills cats to collect their souls. As Kafka begins a sexual relationship with the fifty-year-old librarian Miss Saeki, he learns that his father has been murdered and believes that he may be responsible somehow. Nakata befriends a truck driver named Hoshino and fulfills his enigmatic destiny by locating and opening a white stone that acts as a portal between different worlds. Toward the end of the novel, the two plotlines converge when Nakata comes to the library to burn the memories Miss Saeki has written down; having done so for her, Miss Saeki dies at her desk. While the "entrance" is open, Kafka travels deep into the forest, arriving in a village that exists in limbo. Speaking to Miss Saeki, he forgives his mother for abandoning him when he was young. The novel ends with Nakata passing away in his sleep and Kafka returning to Tokyo, where he intends to tell the police everything he knows before returning to high school.

Published in the original Japanese in 2002 and translated into English in 2005 by Philip Gabriel, the novel furthered Murakami's internal reputation, earning a spot on the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2005 list and winning the World Fantasy Award. The novel develops themes found in much of Murakami's body of work, including the existence of a parallel world, subconscious desires, and the power of dreams. The novel also features several of Murakami's trademark subjects, such as sex, food, classical music, metaphysics, and cats.