71 pages 2 hours read

Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2002

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Summary and Study Guide


A coming-of-age story that raises many questions about concepts such as good and evil, reality, time, and memory, Kafka on the Shore describes the journey of a fifteen year-old run-away, Kafka Tamura, from his home in Tokyo to the shores of Takamatsu. Kafka flees home because his father, a famous—but violent—sculptor, cursed him: he will kill his father and sleep with his mother and sister. Kafka’s mother fled with his older sister when Kafka was four years old.

Kafka takes refuge in a small private library outside Takamatsu, where he meets an understanding, supportive and intelligent transgender young gay man named Oshima. The enigmatic director of the library, Miss Saeki, may be his mother. A young woman whom he meets on the bus to Takamatsu, Sakura the hairdresser, may be his sister.

Each chapter narrated by Kafka alternates with a chapter about a mysterious older man named Nakata. As the novel progresses, Nakata’s life story and his separate journey to Takamatsu become entwined with Kafka’s.

The victim of a bizarre childhood accident that forever changed him, Nakata navigates the world in a simple-minded, organic fashion. As a result of his accident, he has no memories of the past or ability to form memories in the present. He cannot read or write. In exchange for his memory and intellect, the accident left him with the ability to talk to cats. Now an old man, Nakata supplements his disability income by finding local families’ lost pets. His search for one cat leads him to encounter great evil and sets him on a path to set the universe, which has gotten off track, back the way it should be. A young truck driver, Hoshino, is drawn into Nakata’s journey and helps him.

Nakata murders Kafka’s father—in the form of the cat-killer Johnnie Walker—and follows Kafka to Takamatsu, where he is guided by intuition to perform a series of magical deeds, involving opening and then closing the “entrance stone.” The entrance stone enables Kafka, and others, to pass from one world to another in order to gain insight and self-knowledge.

Both Kafka and Nakata flee as the police home in on the missing teenager and old man for questioning in the murder of Kafka’s father. Oshima takes Kafka to his family’s cabin in the woods to hide. Once there, he has a series of inexplicable encounters in the woods, and he must choose whether to succumb to the curse laid upon him or to move beyond it to a life of his own choosing. Nakata and Hoshino hide in an apartment on the outskirts of the city.

Though Kafka and Nakata never meet, Nakata’s actions allow Kafka to move into a future free of his father’s curse. Kafka chooses life, just as Nakata dies. Hoshino completes Nakata’s magical tasks, to honor Nakata’s memory. Kafka chooses to return to the world and decides to go home and face his future, which includes finishing school and dealing with the police and his inheritance, both literal and figurative, from his father.