Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading,
and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group's
discussion of Kafka on the Shore, the magical new novel by the
internationally acclaimed author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,
Haruki Murakami. Part bildungsroman, part metaphysical thriller, part
meditation on the elusive nature of time, Kafka on the Shore
displays all the talents that have made Haruki Murakami one of the most
beloved novelists in the world today.
About This Book Kafka on
the Shore is structured around the alternating stories of Kafka
Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home to escape an
awful oedipal prophecy, and Nakata, an aging and illiterate simpleton
who has never completely recovered from a wartime affliction. Kafka's
journey brings him to a small private library in the provincial town of
Takamatsu and to a mountain hideaway where the ordinary laws of time no
longer apply. But, like Oedipus, the more Kafka tries to avoid his fate,
the closer he comes to fulfilling it. Nakata also sets forth on a
questfor an enigmatic "entrance stone," the significance of which he
does not understand. These narratives push relentlessly forward like
trains running on parallel tracks. We know the tracks will converge at
some point, but not knowing when, or where, or how creates the suspense
that makes the novel so compelling and drives it to its astonishing
conclusion. Along the way Kafka on the Shore investigates and
sometimes challenges our conceptions of time, fate, chance, love, and
the very nature of human reality. The novel offers up a rich array of
extraordinary characters and outrageous happenings: fish falling from
the sky, conversations between man and cat, a supernatural Colonel
Sanders's, ghostly but deeply sensual lovers, a philosophical prostitute,
World War II soldiers untouched by time, and much else both strange and
wonderful. But more than metaphysical fun is at stake in Kafka on the
Shore. There is a vicious murder to be solved, complex and possibly
incestuous relationships to be untangled, and the very nature of reality
itself hangs in the balance.
Intellectually ambitious, emotionally intense, and beautifully written,
Kafka on the Shore bristles with Murakami's unique brand of
imaginative brio. Readers will find themselves simultaneously wanting to
turn the pages faster and faster to find out what happens and to slow
down to savor the depth and beauty of Murakami's prose.
first character to speak in Kafka on the Shore is the "boy named
Crow" [p. 3]. Who is he? What part of Kafka Tamura's psyche does he
"Kafka," we later learn, means "crow" in Czech. What relationship
is Murakami trying to suggest between Franz Kafka, Kafka Tamura, the boy
named Crow, and actual crows? At what significant moments do crows
appear in the novel? What symbolic value do they have?
When Kafka meets Sakura on the bus, they agree that "even chance
meetings . . . are the results of karma" and that "things in life are
fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there's no
such thing as coincidence" [p. 33]. What role does fate, or meaningful
coincidence, play in the novel? Is it karma that determines Kafka's
Much of the novel alternates between Kafka's story and Nakata's.
What effects does Murakami create by moving the reader back and forth
between parallel narratives? What is the relationship between Nakata and
When Kafka is a young boy, his father tells him: "Someday you
will murder your father and be with your mother" [p. 202], the same
destiny as Oedipus. Kafka's father also tells him that he will sleep
with his sister and that there is nothing he can do to prevent this
prophecy from being fulfilled. How do Kafka's attempts to escape his
fate bring him closer to fulfilling it?
The phrase "for the time being" is repeated throughout Kafka on
the Shore. Why has Murakami chosen to use this qualifying statement
so often? How is the conventional concept of time stretched and
challenged by events in the novel? Why does Miss Saeki tell Kafka:
"Time's rules don't apply here. Time expands, then contracts, all in
tune with the stirrings of the heart" [p. 219]?
In what ways are the boundaries between past and present, dreaming
and waking, fantasy and reality blurred and often erased in Kafka on
The teacher in charge of the children who lost consciousness in
the woods during World War II writes to her professor many years later
and tells him: "I find the worldview that runs through all of your
publications very convincingnamely that as individuals each of us is
extremely isolated, while at the same time we are all linked by a
prototypical memory" [p. 96]. How are the main characters of the
novelKafka, Nakata, Oshima, Miss Saeki"extremely isolated"? In what
ways do they share a "prototypical memory"? What would that memory be?
Kafka Tamura seems, in some mysterious way, to be both Miss
Saeki's son and the ghost of her long-dead lover. How does Murakami
intend us to understand this shifting and apparently impossible dual
What is the relationship between Nakata's quest for the "entrance
stone" and Kafka's journey into the forest?
In what ways can Kafka on the Shore be read as a love
The supernatural shape-shifter, who takes the form of Colonel
Sanders, tells Hoshino that he is neither God nor Buddha but a kind of
"overseer, supervising something to make sure it fulfills its original
role. Checking the correlation between different worlds, making sure
things are in the right order" [p. 284]. What are these different
worlds? Is Colonel Sanders talking about parallel universes?
Kafka on the Shore is, for the most part, a realistic
novel, yet it contains many magical elementsNakata's ability to talk
with cats and make fish fall from the sky, the shape-shifting Colonel
Sanders, the middle-aged Miss Saeki visiting Kafka as her
fifteen-year-old self. What is Murakami saying about the nature of
reality and our beliefs about it through these seemingly impossible
At the end of the novel, Oshima tells Kafka, "You've grown up"
[p. 463]. In what ways has Kafka been changed by his experience? What
are the most important things he has learned? Why does he feel he has
entered "a brand-new world" [p. 467]?
Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes; Takashi Atoda, The Square Persimmon and
Other Stories; Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World;
Franz Kafka, The Castle; Yumiko Kurahashi, Cruel Fairy Tales
for Adults; Yukio Mishima, The Temple of Dawn; Kenzaburo Oe,
Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness; Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex.
Also by Haruki Murakami from Vintage International: After The Quake;
Dance Dance Dance; The Elephant Vanishes; Hard-Boiled
Wonderland and the End of the World; Norwegian Wood; South
of the Border, West of the Sun; Sputnik Sweetheart; Underground;
Vintage Murakami; A Wild Sheep Chase;
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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