A Look at The Thought-Provoking Kafka on the Shore

‘Kafka on the Shore’ is an intriguing novel with its simple language and elusive themes. Read on to so learn more.

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Three different book covers of 'Kafka on the Shore'

Kafka on the Shore is a novel written by Haruki Murakami. It was published in Japan in 2002, with an English translation following shortly in 2005. The novel was influenced by Western novels and authors such as Franz Kafka (hence the name Kafka). It was a successful book that still puzzles and delights readers today.

Reader alert: There will be spoilers!


The plot revolves around two characters: a teenager named Kafka Tamura and an elderly man named Satoru Nakata. Their stories alternate in each chapter. Kafka has an Oedipal curse, and to escape it, he runs from his father’s home to find his mother and sister. He eventually finds a library and stays there for a significant portion of the novel. He is later accused of killing his father, though he has no recollection of doing so.

Scene from the movie 'Kafka on the Shore' showing Satoru Nakata and two life-sized cats

Nakata is one of many children involved in an incident where they collapsed in a patch of woods. He was the only one who didn’t recover — he lost his memories and ability to read and write, but he could suddenly communicate with cats. He starts finding lost cats as an old man and later finds and kills a cat killer named Johnie Walker (who turns out to be Kafka’s father). He later goes on the road, guided by a force he can’t fathom but knowing he must go.


This novel contains several themes, and what they are and what they mean depends on who you ask. This is a thought-provoking novel that doesn’t explain everything that happens, leaving readers to wonder and figure it out on their own. Kafka on the Shore is metaphysical and focuses on the mind and on dreams. Some readers have suggested that what happened in dreams or in other characters’ subconsciousness happens in real life.

Japanese version of 'Kafka on the Shore' showing a cloudy figure with a cat in the center and a purple mist background

Maybe Kafka murdered his father by using Nakata. There’s Kafka’s fate, the one where he is supposed to kill his father and have relations with his mother and sister. Since he ran away from home at the beginning, he obviously was trying to change his fate. He wanted to be free, but at least part of the curse may have happened anyway if he was the one who killed his father. And, through dreams, he may have had relations with his mother and sister. Depending on whether you believe he did these things through dreams and his subconsciousness or not, it could be seen as freedom from fate or the inevitability of fate.

For more potential themes, click here.

Understanding the Novel

Black and white photo of Haruki Murakami

As mentioned earlier, not all the loose ends are wrapped up neatly. Not long after the novel was published, Murakami answered thousands of questions about the book from Japanese readers. But there is an interview in English, and Murakami himself said that the best way to understand the novel is to read it multiple times. The novel gets clearer, and readers naturally notice elements of the book that they didn’t notice the first time, the second time, etc. The answers won’t be the same for each reader, and that’s how Murakami set out to write Kafka on the Shore.

For more on Haruki Murakami’s works, click here.