This is a surreal novel about a 15-year-old boy in his puberty dreaming. In the beginning he is setting off on a journey, leaving his father behind in Tokyo. He is on the quest for his mother and sister, who left him and his father behind long time ago. Kafka Tamura has only a photo in his hand. It shows him and his sister at a beach. He asks himself „Who took this photo? Was it his mother? Where is she and what happened to her? Is she dead?“
His journey begins.
Then there is Nakata. An old man who survived a strange gas attack in World War II during his childhood. He became ill due to the incident and lost his memory. Now he is able to chat with cats and gets involved into the murder of Kafkas father.
He is on the run.
Kafka finds shelter in a library in Takamatsu. He befriends with the librarian, gets a part-time job and a room there. Strange things occur to him, he finds himself unconscious but full of blood in the night of his father’s murder. Is it possible, that he has murdered him?
The head of the library is Miss Saeki. A sophisticated mysterious woman in her fifties. She likes Kafka because he reminds him of her lover of her youth. Kafka loves her. Is she his mother?
In the meantime Nakata, the old stupid man, arrives in Takamatsu with the help of a trucker called Hoshino. Their mission is to get hold of the entrance stone. Although Hoshino does not know what it is and why he is travelling with the old guy, who reminds him of his grandfather, he makes much effort to bring the holy stone to Nakata.
Kafkas father was found dead in his house in Tokyo. The police is searching for Kafka, who is missing, and for Nakata, who is suspected of murder. It takes some time, but then they will looking for them in Takamatsu.
The escape begins.
Kafka is no longer safe in the library. Meanwhile he is enmeshed in a relationship with Miss Saeki. The librarian takes Kafka into the woods, to a small cabin. He sinks into a delirium and has visions. In this state of mind he sets out into the deep woods, where he gets lost. Of course strange things happen there too. The story gets more surreal. Can Kafka get back?
Murakami weaves in several stories into his novel and changes the perspectives often. He uses historical documents, philosophical thoughts and throws in examples of Japanese and European literature, as Natsume Sôseki, the Genji monogatari, Tales of Moonlight shadows, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and Ovid Metamorphosis or the Eichmann biography. It is part of the story and interpretation given by the author. Murakami plays with names of Kafka, Johnnie Walker, and the Kentucky Fried Chicken icon Colonel Sanders. This is the typical Murakami mix so many of his readers like and makes his novels unique.
The story is growing weird, more abstract and also confusing. Dialogues with Miss Saeki are somehow difficult to understand. What is the truth?
The main characters Kafka Tamura, Nakata, Hoshino and Miss Saeki are intertwined and are going through a metamorphosis. But in the end who knows, was it all a dream?
In the end there are many questions unanswered as in the beginning, but one has gone through many changes during reading this novel. Then you want to turn to the beginning and want to read it again.
Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore. Vintage, 2005. Japanese: Umibe no Kafuka 2002.