Why should you read “Kafka on the Shore”? - Iseult Gillespie
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Born in Kyoto in 1949, Murakami decided to try writing while he was watching a baseball game as an adult. The result is an ever-expanding body of work that has captivated a global audience, inspiring communities of readers across the world who debate his profound mysteries and haunting imagery. His work has also inspired works of art and theatre – watch this video to find out more about adapting the epic story of Kafka on the Shore for the stage.
Kafka on the Shore is a modern Odyssey, which takes us from the suburban life of an unhappy teenager into the depths of history, conspiracy and a magical underworld. So elaborate is the mystery that it rejects any one solution or summary - instead, readers delight in sewing together the different strands of the story and making new connections between Murakami’s signature haunting images.
In addition to the scope of his fantastical imagination, Murakami’s work is packed with different cultural references. For a detailed curated list of the books, films and more referenced in Kafka on the Shore alone visit this blog.
Many have noted the musical quality of Murakami’s language – which is no coincidence given his love of jazz and other types of music. Before he started writing, Murakami even owned a jazz bar called Peter Cat in Tokyo. For a beautiful account of his early professional life and the influence of music on his writing in his own words, click here. For all his musical references curated by book, visit this website. You can also listen to thousands of songs mentioned by Murakami with this playlist.
While pop culture resonates with his contemporary audience, readers also adore Murakami for his repeating patterns of dreamlike imagery. Read this interview for some gems of insight on writing and dreaming (like the wonderful statement on his most beloved tropes: “I’m obsessed with the well. And the elephant. The refrigerator. The cat. And the ironing. I can’t explain it.”) Then, read this interview to learn more about his process and values as one of the world’s most beloved living writers. Learn more about his daily routine here.
From fish raining from the sky to a flute made out of cat souls, Kafka on the Shore exemplifies Murakami’s ability to conjure the strangest and weirdly enticing imagery. These details are made all the more disconcerting, and often funny, by Kafka’s acceptance of the bizarre things happening to him. Just as we rarely stop to think about what we’re doing in a dream, he, and many of Murakami’s other protagonists, simply take spellbinding encounters at face value.
This acceptance of magic by ordinary people is a key feature of magical realism. Murakami is considered a master of the genre, which weaves magic into the fabric of everyday life without explanation.
One of the important differences between magical realism and fantasy is that in the former, magic rarely offers solutions or escapes from reality. Instead, it becomes just one more thing that complicates daily life. This makes normal situations appear unfamiliar to the reader, and leaves us wondering about the strange coincidences, surprising patterns or chance encounters that sometimes spring up in humdrum life.
Kafka on the Shore is filled with such moments; and while these make the story startlingly original and endlessly, the book also hints at universal themes. Over the course of the novel, we see how each character has had to carve out their own space in the world. And while Kafka often seems to be lost in the dark, there’s a tenderness and integrity at the heart of his mission to sustain his relationships - and become a more active participant in his own fate.
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