“Kafka on the Shore,” like other Haruki Murakami works, is a novel of metaphysical reality. The writing is ethereal yet guileless, it makes pipe dreams seem like reality. In this world, sardines fall from the sky, cats talk to people, a man sleeps for three straight days, an aging woman transfigures into a fifteen-year-old spirit, Johnnie Walker is a crazy cat-killer and Colonel Sanders is a pimp.
“Kafka on the Shore” is both the title of a song and a painting. And Kafka, of course, is the name of the main character. In the novel, we follow the journey of Kafka Tamura, alternated with that of Satoru Nakata which parallels Kafka's experiences. It is a journey at once to escape destiny and to search for the real essence of one's existence.
Kafka has an Oedipal future awaiting him; at least, this is his father’s prediction. On his fifteenth birthday, Kafka decides to leave his father and their house carrying only his backpack and walkman. From Tokyo, he travels to Takamatsu where he ends up shacking up and working at a library. Here, he meets Oshima who turns out to be a hermaphrodite, and Miss Saeki whom Kafka develops an infatuation for. Miss Saeki is a strange soul. At one point, she transforms into a phantom
and makes love with Kafka. Eventually, it is revealed that she could actually be his mother, perhaps to some extent validating his father’s anxiety.
Mr. Nakata, for his part, is an old simpleton. He was quite a whiz kid in his younger years but after falling into a coma at a field trip during World War II, he would wake up not remembering anything, including how to read or write. Subsequently, he would begin referring to himself in the third person. Nakata for all his limitations has one extraordinary gift – he can literally talk to cats. It is natural therefore that he makes a living out of looking for missing cats of wealthy families. For an old guy, Nakata is also quite the adventurer; one day he decides to go on a trip also carrying his backpack. On his journey he meets Hoshino, a truck driver who hitch-hikes with him. Hoshino discovers that Nakata is such a heavy-sleeper that on one occasion, he sleeps for three straight days. At the end of their journey, they too end up in the Takamatsu library that Kafka located. Kafka and Nakata never meet.
Haruki Murakami seems to have a penchant for taking his readers to phantasmagoria. “Kafka on the Shore” is peppered with metaphor and simile, paradox and aphorism, mythology and philosophy. The stories easily shift from macabre to
lyrical, from dream to real. The characters’ actions are illustrated such that making love with a spirit and sleeping literally like a log are like the most natural things. This is an enigma of a tale that pulls the reader through the rest of the odyssey, but which in the end leaves more questions hanging than answered.