Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: Kafka on the Shore (audio) ~ by Haruki Murakami

kafka on the shore

Review by Shellie for: Kafka on the Shore (audio) ~ by Haruki Murakami (read by Sean Barrett, Oliver Le Sueur and more).

A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translated to English from Japanese, it is a novel that has the distinct feel of its country’s setting.

About:  There are a a number of story lines in this complex and layered story, with the two primary ones based around Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. The story starts with fifteen year old Kafka in the process of running away from his home in Tokyo, perhaps due to his emotionally unavailable father or to find his mother and adopted sister, who left when Kafka was little. As a usual sort of intelligent teen with some unusual attributes (he has an imaginary boy named crow who advises him on various issues), he takes his “road trip” to escape.

Then there is Mr. Nakata, a lovely “simple” older man who cannot read but can amazingly speak to cats (and boy are the cats amusing and well done). He has a “Zen” like characteristic to his attitude and also to his speaking quality in the audio version. Although the two men never actually meet, they move inside the story with their own personal quests overlapping frequently - with the intricate connections becoming clear as the story progresses.

Thoughts:   Kafka on the Shore has a variety of  themes which may intrigue potential readers, as they did me. Some of these are - cats; World War II; philosophical musings; discussions around literature; the use and discussion of literary tropes such as metaphor, allegory and more; and the arts, including music. Murakami addresses gender and feminism in an indirect way. He has also woven in Asian spiritual themes such enlightenment and rebirth, and some interesting imagery regarding body fluids. The strongest thread in the story is its connection with the mythical story of Oedipus, that creates an unusual twist within the book. For a bit about this myth, here is a short definition:

As a Freudian psychological metaphor describing son–father psychosexual competition for possession of mother, the Oedipus complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother… (via Wikipedia)

It’s interesting that several of Murakami’s major themes for Kafka on the Shore are metaphor and the myth of Oedipus, and that this shocking complex is also considered a metaphor in its definition above.

I felt that the readers’ voices for the characters where done very well, giving life to the various and well developed characters. I liked that so many of the themes stimulated an intellectual side for me and that better yet I learned a few things. However, I had a conflict – there were too many sexual references and scenes, some were too detailed. Indeed the end of the novel became more about our main protagonist Kafka’s sexual desires and experiences than anything else. Otherwise a very worthy read and well done in this audio version. I give this intriguing audio book 4 stars; more if the sex had been a bit more subtle.

Publication information:  Naxos AudioBooks; May 2006; First published in Sept 2002; Unabridged; read by Sean Barrett, Gordon Griffin, Daniel Philpott, Bob Rollett, Oliver Le Sueur, and Georgina Sutton; 19 hours, 6 minutes. Audio Awards: Best Audiobooks-AudioFile; 10 Best Books of 2005-New York Times; Literary Awards: World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), PEN Translation Prize (2006).

Haruki Marukami is Japan’s leading literary novelist, who developed a cult reputation with his novel turned movie, recently released in the UK - Norwegian Wood. For an interview see Book Browse’s write up on Haruki Murakami. (Book Browse is one of my favorite sites to go to find information on books, authors and reviews.)

This book was read/listened to in 2011 and will be included in several challenges: The Basics and Haruki Marukami Challenge 2011.

Catching up here slowly, more “read in 2011” reviews coming up. Thanks for reading.


@parridhlantern said...

This book was the one that introduced me to Haruki Murakami & also one of the ones that started my J-Lit journey, which I'm still travelling today in fact just posted on a book of Japanese aesthetics.

Unknown said...

Gary -
I just saw on twitter that you started reading The Best Japanese Sci Fi recently, and will look out for your review of the aesthetics.

I loved Japan/Tokyo when we visited - the food was fabulous. I was taller than everyone else but it was so much fun.

JoV said...

It's the same for me, if the sexual references were a little subtle I would have rated most of his books a 5!

cessie said...

I have this book on my TBR list for this year as I so badly want to read it (for so long already) and I never seem to make it that far! Very curious though...

Unknown said...

JoV -
Yep we two are of the same mind with this. I keep thinking about the book that you read which you loved excepted for the bad language and you knocked it down a half star.... funny. I think it was - The Slap - I knocked this one down a full star.

He did get the "bad sex award" this year or was nominated for it...

btw - love your new blog lay out... fresh and organized!

Cessie -
You will love it if the copious sex does not bother you. It is quite an amazing book, and in audio it was done very well.

I hope you enjoy it. You know there is a challenge for him -
linked at this url:

It was the only way I managed to get one of his books finally read.

JoV said...

Thanks for the compliment. I think I was lucky to find a blog theme like that as you may know Wordpress themes are a little restrictive and less creative. :)

I usually knock the bad sex element of a good book down a half star! lol

Unknown said...

JoV -
It's fun to play around with how your blog looks and the posts too. I was also admiring your graphs too... fun stuff.

Yes we agree... bad sex when I read is too much information!

Neha said...

‘Kafka On The Shore’ by Haruki Murakami is a novel with dual-stranded plot, shrouded in mysticism, symbols and metaphors – not an easy concoction to handle for a bestseller. Yet surprisingly it turned out to be one of the most popular novels of recent times. I began reading the book with increasing curiosity, and with high expectation, which the dramatic beginning and convoluted plot construction elicited in me, only to lose the steam midway. I definitely got disappointed by the overcomplexity marring the poetic and mystic flow of the narration, overzealous affectation of the author to the myth of Oedipus, and overusage of metaphors and symbolism in his narrative style. I am a great fan of the school of magic realism. But Murakami apparently have gone overboard at many places in the plot construction, leaving too many unanswered riddles, which he insists to be found by the readers through repeated reading of the book, but somehow I cannot buy the idea. I am sorry, but unsolved riddles are meant to goad the readers to search for the greater meaning of life or stimulate their imagination, but not to be used as props to pull up a weak and porous plot to a conclusive end. I am sure that the author have lost his way in the proverbial woods of complex plot building, and has to make a desperate attempt to tie lose ends together leaving many unanswered questions and weak links in the plot in disguise of metaphorical riddles. Well, that does not mean the novel is a poor one. On the contrary, it is brilliant at many places, with excellent treatments and extraordinary narrative, only to fall flat on its face at the end! Please go through it and you would find some unforgettable portions, many interesting characters, and poetic narratives with a deep philosophical undertone. A novel with dual character, much like some of the principal characters of the novel itself, I would say.

Unknown said...

Hi Neha -
Interesting take on the novel.

Thanks for sharing.

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