Book Review: Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

I’ve theorized that Japanese literature seems to be the best adjusted to modern life. A singular lack of angst distinguishes novels such as Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, in which I take vicarious delight as its protagonists go about their lives at such places as diners, noodle shops, convenience stores, bus stations, bookstores, museums, and other mundane oases. Of course, Murakami’s characters aren’t simply going about their lives but are engaged in quests that are of great consequence to themselves if not to the universe as a whole. Isn’t that what we’re all doing: adventuring through the turnpike rest areas and shopping malls, like Don Quixote without the satire, discovering meaning wherever it is to be found?

Japanese fiction doesn’t abstract itself from the humdrum environment that produces it. Rather than to imagine more exciting times and places via historical fiction, say, Japanese writers make do with where and when they are. Or as Mr. Hoshino says in this book:

“We’re all pretty much empty, don’t you think? You eat, take a dump, do your crummy job for your lousy pay, and get laid occasionally, if you’re lucky. What else is there? Still, you know, interesting things do happen in life – like with us now.” (p. 306)

As a matter of fact, Mr. Hoshino is addressing his remarks to a man with the ability to talk to cats and to make it rain leeches.

But this book, like all of Murakami’s books, isn’t really about the paranormal. It’s about those not supernatural but nonetheless magical things that give our modern lives meaning: music and books and libraries.

A deserted library in the morning – there’s something about it that really gets to me. All possible worlds and ideas are there, resting quietly. (p. 313)

A library, even in the middle of a boring place like Takamatsu or Tacoma (or Taipei, as in the photograph), gives us all the magic we need. The same could be said of this dream of a book.

 

Author: Harry Miller

I have traveled and lived in Taiwan, China, and Japan and am now a professor of Asian history and author of Southern Rain, a novel of seventeenth-century China.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami”

  1. Loved this review. I agree with every bit of it. You have captured the essence of the book so well. I had read this book back in 2018 and it is the one book that I can’t stop recommending. The way I feel about the book is similar to what I felt after reading your review. Thank you.

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      1. Thanks for your reply. I wanted to make sure you weren’t a robot. I would be keen to know what you think of Norwegian Wood, if and when you read it. Opinion on it is divided. As you may know, it is an early book, with no paranormal content. There is also a good movie, which deals with some but not all of the book’s themes.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sure, will definitely share my thoughts with you. I have also heard mixed opinions on it but that doesn’t dampen my will to read it. Along with Norwegian Wood, I am keen to read Sputnik Sweetheart and hopefully 1Q84.

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