Book Review of the Week: Kafka on the Shore

Edwin Hammond, Staff Writer

Kafka on the Shore, a metaphysical surrealist novel by Haruki Murakami describes the twist of fates, greek-esque tragedy, and the inescapable ends of a life foretold.  The novel pushes a theme of fate throughout the work as a whole. It follows two characters, Kafka Tamura, (the toughest 15 year old in the world) an estranged runaway teenager trying to escaping an oedipal fate, and Satoru Nakata, an old man who, after an accident during World War 2 lost the ability to read, but gained the ability to talk to cats (and other animals too.)

I encountered Kafka on the Shore through quizbowl and was immediately intrigued.  I found Kafka to be totally relatable as I empathized with his 15 year old psyche.  Not only was he a huge bookworm, referencing Yeats and Tolstoy, but actually named himself after Franz Kafka, one of my favorite writers.  The rebellion and independence from his father is something I remember deeply wanting. I wanted to escape the life I was given. I felt I was doomed to live in a small town, in a school I never felt a part of, and fated to study at some state school (gasp).  You can tell I was a real snob. But what ultimately makes Kafka on the Shore such an enthralling read is the way Murakami crafts the plot.

It reads as if a puzzle.  Constantly, characters develop, coincidences show up, and idiosyncrasies correspond.  With each chapter, a new puzzle piece gets added to the frame and the picture, and the functions of Murakami’s universe becomes less strange.  Although at one point fish and leeches rain from the sky, his world feels clear and close to ours.

Kafka on the Shore is one of the most formative and profound works I have read in a long time.  I recommend it to anyone who remembers their rebellious phase, or weirdos in weirder circumstances.  Your world may not have a luxurious library, a fast food chain mascot personified, nor an old man you with the ability to speak to cats, but you may find yourself with your back against the wall in the need to be the toughest you can be.  Whether you are fifteen like Kafka, sixteen as I was when I read it, or seventy surviving on a sub city.  There is still magic to be found, and sandstorms to be chased by.

“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. 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.”  — Haruki Murakami from the first lines of Kafka on the Shore