Kafka on the Shore by Murakami, a review.

I haven’t been posting much here recently, sorry ! I’ve been doing ‘other stuff’, namely photography, painting and reading. I recently finished Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, and felt that it really merited a review:

Murakami is read by many of the people I respect for their intellect, insight and approach. I tried Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World a couple of years ago, and gave up after a few pages. So I came to Kafka on The Shore with some trepidation. I decided to read Kafka after I’d started noticing it on a few IB A1 Reading Lists. With some hints of hubris I assumed that if literature teachers view the text as appropriate for 16 yr olds then I must be able to gain something from it. And gain I did. Kafka is, quite simply, one of the most enchanting novels that I’ve read this year.

It is an effortless book to read, “a real page turner”, as the cliche would describe. The complexity of the story is not in the language used, but in the symbolism and interconnections of the various narratives. The language itself is very straight forward, however the possible philosophical meaning of the story is far from straightforward. That said, you take from it what you want – the story works at all levels of interpretation.

There are 3 main stories – one which starts with a believable, but near illusory event during WW2, which gives us one of our main chimerical characters. The second story revolves around Kafka, and his ongoing movements between physical and metaphysical realms. The third main story concerns lost love and a life unfulfilled. The intertwining of these stories becomes ever clearer as the book progresses. To describe anymore may be a plot spoiler – I would just say read it, you won’t be disappointed. However, I didn’t find ‘an answer’ at the end of the text, there wasn’t a “Scooby Do” moment when all was revealed. I was rather left with more of an appreciation of both the positive and destructive power of love, the importance of desire and the imperative of action over procrastination. I’m sure that other readers will take away very different understandings from the text, the important thing is that there is at least a set of understandings to take away.

“Take away” is very much the wrong phrase, because this novel stays with me. It travels with me not just in meaning, but in the absolute genius of particular parts of the novel. Without wanting to give too much away, I was particularly struck by the description of ‘another place’ (which Kafka travels to towards the end of the novel) – Murakami’s description of this ‘other place’ is by far the best portrayal of that place that I’ve encountered. I was also struck by the humour and modernity of his magic-realist characters, and their apparent self aware consciousness (“I’m not real, I’m just a concept, I’m your concept”). I find this mundane reality of fantasy much more enticing than the ‘ghosts & ghoulies’ depictions found in so many magic-realist texts. I was also surprised by some of the sexual themes, I didn’t realise that 16 yr olds were reading such stuff in their IB Diplomas !

The philosophical concepts of the story are open to much interpretation. The basic Psychoanalytic oedipal mechanisms are clear without being predictable nor hackneyed. There’s also clear referencing to Freud’s triadic theory of mind, used effectively as a way of understanding our protagonist. Triad seem to recur throughout the book, as such I started to view it through the prism of Heider’s Triadic Theory of attitude balance – the characters are metaphorically steeped in cognitive dissonance ! Beyond Psychoanalysis there’s possibly an exploration of the Hegelian concepts of synthesis, antithesis and thesis. In empiricist terms the story starts to make sense when seen as a meeting point between Quantum Field Theory and Psychology. However, I don’t think the point of the text is to make sense – which makes it all the more intriguing and enjoyable !

And so my Murakami journey begins. Looking forward to reading another of his works, but not sure which one to choose. Any suggestions ?


About danieltrump

breathing and sensing human. Learning to observe, learning to write, exploring ideas and thinking. www.danieltrump.wordpress.com


  1. Thank you for your book review. “Kafka on the Shore” seems interesting and I will try to read it after these two weeks’ exams.
    If you like running, Murakami’s “What I talk about when I talk about Running” would be your cup of tea. In that book, he wrote about his regular long-distance running habit and described his feelings when joining full marathons. All in all, it is also a worth-reading book to read.

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