Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore

4.3 172
by Haruki Murakami

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Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for…  See more details below


Kafka on the Shore, a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle - yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed, with one escaping his fate entirely and the other given a fresh start on his own.

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Editorial Reviews

Steven Moore
Murakami's spin on this theme and the Oedipus myth is daringly original and compulsively readable, enabled by Philip Gabriel's wonderfully fluent translation. Kafka on the Shore is warmly recommended; read it to your cat.
— The New York Times
The two words that best describe this novel are "bewildering" and "metaphysical," yet the story is also incredibly readable. The hero describes himself as "the world's toughest 15-year-old," but in reality he is a well-heeled teenager who is either escaping a pre-ordained destiny or in search of his lost mother and sister?—?so YAs can relate to his story. Then, there is the parallel story of Nakata, an old man who?—?during a mysterious attack of either poisonous gas or poison mushroom during WW II?—?was struck down for three weeks and became a simpleton with mysterious powers, like being able to talk to cats. His story adds to the texture and the confusion of the plot. Nonetheless, Marakami is such a good story teller that despite the unbelievable aspects of the plot, the endearing qualities of Nakata and the pluckiness of Kafka will keep the reader going through this lengthy modern novel. YAs will love discussing the meaning of the story and the significance of the characters, like the librarian who might, in Kafka's fantasies, be his mother, and even the mysterious appearance of Colonel Sanders. Well-written and confusing in the best possible way, this semi-fantasy will appeal to many YAs. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2005, Random House, Vintage International, 467p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
In this highly surrealistic offering from distinguished Japanese author Murakami (After the Quake: Stories), two seemingly unrelated stories cleverly told in alternating chapters eventually collide and meld. In the first story, a 15-year-old assumes the alias Kafka Tamura and runs away from his home in Tokyo to Takamatsu. While there, he is befriended by a young girl, hides out in a private library, and seemingly falls in love with the library director. Meanwhile, the elderly, feeble-minded Mr. Nakata, who can talk with cats, encounters a series of unusual characters with names like Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders. Later ensnared in a murder, Nakata leaves town and is befriended by a young man who becomes his invaluable companion. Kafka and Nakata are brought together when Nakata is compelled to search for the "entrance stone" that connects their parallel worlds. Parts of Murakami's story are violently gruesome and sexually explicit, and the plot line following Nakata is rather eerie and disturbing. Yet the bulk of this narrative is erudite, lyrical, and compelling; followers of Murakami's work should approve. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Two mysterious quests form the core of Murakami's absorbing seventh novel, whose encyclopedic breadth recalls his earlier successes, A Wild Sheep Chase (1989) and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997). In the first of two parallel narratives, 15-year-old Kafka Tamura drops out of school and leaves the Tokyo home he shares with his artist-sculptor father, to seek the mother and sister who left them when Kafka was four years old. Traveling to the small town of Takamatsu, he spends his days at a free library, reconnects with a resourceful older girl who becomes his de facto mentor, and begins to reenact the details of a mysterious "incident" from more than 60 years ago. In 1944, a group of 16 schoolchildren inexplicably "lost consciousness" during an outing in a rural mountain area. Only one of them, Satoru Nakata, emerged from the incident damaged-and it's he who, decades later, becomes the story's second protagonist: a childlike, scarcely articulate, mentally challenged sexagenarian who is supported by a possibly guilty government's "sub city" and possesses the ability to hold conversations (charmingly funny ones) with cats. With masterly skill and considerable subtlety, Murakami gradually plaits together the experiences and fates of Kafka and Nakata, underscoring their increasingly complex symbolic significance with several dazzling subplots and texts: a paternal prophecy echoing the Oedipus legend (from which Kafka also seeks escape); a faux-biblical occurrence in which things that ought not to be in the skies are raining down from them; the bizarre figures of a whore devoted to Hegel's philosophy; and an otherworldly pimp whose sartorial affectations cloak his true menacing nature; aghostly forest into which Russian soldiers inexplicably disappear; and-in glancing allusions to Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki-a clever homage to that author's beguiling 1905 fantasy, I Am a Cat. Murakami is of course himself an immensely reader-friendly novelist, and never has he offered more enticing fare than this enchantingly inventive tale. A masterpiece, entirely Nobel-worthy. First printing of 60,000
From the Publisher
“As powerful as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. . . . Reading Murakami . . . is a striking experience in consciousness expansion.” –The Chicago Tribune

“An insistently metaphysical mind-bender.”
The New Yorker

“If he has not achieved that status already, Haruki Murakami is on course to becoming the most widely read Japanese writer outside Japan, past or present.”
New York Times

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.59(w) x 9.70(h) x 1.42(d)

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Cash isn't the only thing I take from my father's study when I leave home. I take a small, old gold lighter--I like the design and feel of it--and a folding knife with a really sharp blade. Made to skin deer, it has a five-inch blade and a nice heft. Probably something he bought on one of his trips abroad. I also take a sturdy, bright pocket flashlight out of a drawer. Plus sky blue Revo sunglasses to disguise my age.

I think about taking my father's favorite Sea-Dweller Oyster Rolex. It's a beautiful watch, but something flashy will only attract attention. My cheap plastic Casio watch with an alarm and stopwatch will do just fine, and might actually be more useful. Reluctantly, I return the Rolex to its drawer.

From the back of another drawer I take out a photo of me and my older sister when we were little, the two of us on a beach somewhere with grins plastered across our faces. My sister's looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It's like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that's half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness. For my part I'm staring straight ahead, undaunted, at the camera. Nobody else is there at the beach. My sister and I have on swimsuits--hers a red floral-print one-piece, mine some baggy old blue trunks. I'm holding a plastic stick in my hand. White foam is washing over our feet.

Who took this, and where and when, I have no clue. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just that one photo? The whole thing is a total mystery. I must have been three, my sister nine. Did we ever really get along that well? I have no memory of ever going to the beach with my family. No memory of going anywhere with them. No matter, though--there is no way I'm going to leave that photo with my father, so I put it in my wallet. I don't have any photos of my mother. My father had thrown them all away.

After giving it some thought I decide to take the cell phone with me. Once he finds out I've taken it, my father will probably get the phone company to cut off service. Still, I toss it into my backpack, along with the adapter. Doesn't add much weight, so why not. When it doesn't work anymore I'll just chuck it.

Just the bare necessities, that's all I need. Choosing which clothes to take is the hardest thing. I'll need a couple sweaters and pairs of underwear. But what about shirts and trousers? Gloves, mufflers, shorts, a coat? There's no end to it. One thing I do know, though. I don't want to wander around some strange place with a huge backpack that screams out, Hey, everybody, check out the runaway! Do that and someone is sure to sit up and take notice. Next thing you know the police will haul me in and I'll be sent straight home. If I don't wind up in some gang first.

Any place cold is definitely out, I decide. Easy enough, just choose the opposite--a warm place. Then I can leave the coat and gloves behind, and get by with half the clothes. I pick out wash-and-wear-type things, the lightest ones I have, fold them neatly, and stuff them in my backpack. I also pack a three-season sleeping bag, the kind that rolls up nice and tight, toilet stuff, a rain poncho, notebook and pen, a Walkman and ten discs--got to have my music--along with a spare rechargeable battery. That's about it. No need for any cooking gear, which is too heavy and takes up too much room, since I can buy food at the local convenience store.

It takes a while but I'm able to subtract a lot of things from my list. I add things, cross them off, then add a whole other bunch and cross them off, too.

My fifteenth birthday is the ideal time to run away from home. Any earlier and it'd be too soon. Any later and I would have missed my chance.

During my first two years in junior high, I'd worked out, training myself for this day. I started practicing judo in the first couple years of grade school, and still went sometimes in junior high. But I didn't join any school teams. Whenever I had the time I'd jog around the school grounds, swim, or go to the local gym. The young trainers there gave me free lessons, showing me the best kind of stretching exercises and how to use the fitness machines to bulk up. They taught me which muscles you use every day and which ones can only be built up with machines, even the correct way to do a bench press. I'm pretty tall to begin with, and with all this exercise I've developed pretty broad shoulders and pecs. Most strangers would take me for seventeen. If I ran away looking my actual age, you can imagine all the problems that would cause.

Other than the trainers at the gym and the housekeeper who comes to our house every other day--and of course the bare minimum required to get by at school--I barely talk to anyone. For a long time my father and I have avoided seeing each other. We live under the same roof, but our schedules are totally different. He spends most of his time in his studio, far away, and I do my best to avoid him.

The school I'm going to is a private junior high for kids who are upper-class, or at least rich. It's the kind of school where, unless you really blow it, you're automatically promoted to the high school on the same campus. All the students dress neatly, have nice straight teeth, and are boring as hell. Naturally I have zero friends. I've built a wall around me, never letting anybody inside and trying not to venture outside myself. Who could like somebody like that? They all keep an eye on me, from a distance. They might hate me, or even be afraid of me, but I'm just glad they didn't bother me. Because I had tons of things to take care of, including spending a lot of my free time devouring books in the school library.

I always paid close attention to what was said in class, though. Just like the boy named Crow suggested.

The facts and techniques or whatever they teach you in class isn't going to be very useful in the real world, that's for sure. Let's face it, teachers are basically a bunch of morons. But you've got to remember this: you're running away from home. You probably won't have any chance to go to school anymore, so like it or not you'd better absorb whatever you can while you've got the chance. Become like a sheet of blotting paper and soak it all in. Later on you can figure out what to keep and what to unload.

I did what he said, like I almost always do. My brain like a sponge, I focused on every word said in class and let it all sink in, figured out what it meant, and committed everything to memory. Thanks to this, I barely had to study outside of class, but always came out near the top on exams.

My muscles were getting hard as steel, even as I grew more withdrawn and quiet. I tried hard to keep my emotions from showing so that no one--classmates and teachers alike--had a clue what I was thinking. Soon I'd be launched into the rough adult world, and I knew I'd have to be tougher than anybody if I wanted to survive.

My eyes in the mirror are cold as a lizard's, my expression fixed and unreadable. I can't remember the last time I laughed or even showed a hint of a smile to other people. Even to myself.

I'm not trying to imply I can keep up this silent, isolated facade all the time. Sometimes the wall I've erected around me comes crumbling down. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes, before I even realize what's going on, there I am--naked and defenseless and totally confused. At times like that I always feel an omen calling out to me, like a dark, omnipresent pool of water.

A dark, omnipresent pool of water.

It was probably always there, hidden away somewhere. But when the time comes it silently rushes out, chilling every cell in your body. You drown in that cruel flood, gasping for breath. You cling to a vent near the ceiling, struggling, but the air you manage to breathe is dry and burns your throat. Water and thirst, cold and heat--these supposedly opposite elements combine to assault you.

The world is a huge space, but the space that will take you in--and it doesn't have to be very big--is nowhere to be found. You seek a voice, but what do you get? Silence. You look for silence, but guess what? All you hear over and over and over is the voice of this omen. And sometimes this prophetic voice pushes a secret switch hidden deep inside your brain.

Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, full to the banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That's it. That's my heart.

Before running away from home I wash my hands and face, trim my nails, swab out my ears, and brush my teeth. I take my time, making sure my whole body's well scrubbed. Being really clean is sometimes the most important thing there is. I gaze carefully at my face in the mirror. Genes I'd gotten from my father and mother--not that I have any recollection of what she looked like--created this face. I can do my best to not let any emotions show, keep my eyes from revealing anything, bulk up my muscles, but there's not much I can do about my looks. I'm stuck with my father's long, thick eyebrows and the deep lines between them. I could probably kill him if I wanted to--I'm sure strong enough--and I can erase my mother from my memory. But there's no way to erase the DNA they passed down to me. If I wanted to drive that away I'd have to get rid of me.

There's an omen contained in that. A mechanism buried inside of me.

A mechanism buried inside of you.

I switch off the light and leave the bathroom. A heavy, damp stillness lies over the house. The whispers of people who don't exist, the breath of the dead. I look around, standing stock-still, and take a deep breath. The clock shows three p.m., the two hands cold and distant. They're pretending to be noncommittal, but I know they're not on my side. It's nearly time for me to say good-bye. I pick up my backpack and slip it over my shoulders. I've carried it any number of times, but now it feels so much heavier.

Shikoku, I decide. That's where I'll go. There's no particular reason it has to be Shikoku, only that studying the map I got the feeling that's where I should head. The more I look at the map--actually every time I study it--the more I feel Shikoku tugging at me. It's far south of Tokyo, separated from the mainland by water, with a warm climate. I've never been there, have no friends or relatives there, so if somebody started looking for me--which I kind of doubt--Shikoku would be the last place they'd think of.

I pick up the ticket I'd reserved at the counter and climb aboard the night bus. This is the cheapest way to get to Takamatsu--just a shade over ninety bucks. Nobody pays me any attention, asks how old I am, or gives me a second look. The bus driver mechanically checks my ticket.

Only a third of the seats are taken. Most passengers are traveling alone, like me, and the bus is strangely silent. It's a long trip to Takamatsu, ten hours according to the schedule, and we'll be arriving early in the morning. But I don't mind. I've got plenty of time. The bus pulls out of the station at eight, and I push my seat back. No sooner do I settle down than my consciousness, like a battery that's lost its charge, starts to fade away, and I fall asleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night a hard rain begins to fall. I wake up every once in a while, part the chintzy curtain at the window, and gaze out at the highway rushing by. Raindrops beat against the glass, blurring streetlights alongside the road that stretch off into the distance at identical intervals like they were set down to measure the earth. A new light rushes up close and in an instant fades off behind us. I check my watch and see it's past midnight. Automatically shoved to the front, my fifteenth birthday makes its appearance.

Hey, happy birthday, the boy named Crow says.

Thanks, I reply.

The omen is still with me, though, like a shadow. I check to make sure the wallaround me is still in place. Then I close the curtain and fall back asleep.


Visit Haruki Murakami's official website to read more from Kafka on the Shore.


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Kafka on the Shore 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 172 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The style of the book reminded me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut's style. I read it within 3 days and I keep thinking about it. Although everything isn't answered in the story, I think it's enough to keep the reader more than satisfied (after all it makes the reader think about it more). It's so different from the other things I've been reading lately that I just find it refreshing and intriguing.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
Murakami is one of our greatest living authors, and in my opinion this is his masterpiece. Kafka on the Shore is so beautiful and so surreal it will leave you haunted for days. The characters are so masterfully crafted that they will become a part of you. The existentialist themes are so profound that they will change you. This book is designed to make you think, and more importantly, to make you feel. And it does both those things, powerfully.
Breeze_in_Austin More than 1 year ago
Escaping the bounds of reality seems so simple in this amazing book by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, one of today's most original and mind-bending writers. The translation from Japanese to English is absolutely stunning as the language is both vivid and detailed. Following the story of a 15-year old boy as he finds his way through the mysteries of life, Murakami crafts a story that jolts the reader from concrete feelings to far-fetched imagery. Let go of what you expect and know of the world and allow yourself to venture into this meandering tale full of surprising twists and turns. Murakami's greatest feat is his ability to make what is surely impossible seem so real and lifelike - from a man who can talk to cats, to strange characters who resemble familiar characters from modern day product marketing like Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders. The tale is told in such a way as to suggest a dreamlike state where life isn't what you expect, and is much more vivid than we normally allow. Not a love story, exactly. Not a coming of age parable, either. Not a thriller or mystery. And yet, it weaves together elements of all of these into one masterful piece of writing that will keep you glued to the pages. Set in modern-day Japan, the story is filled with contemporary references, making the situations seem entirely plausible. But as the plot twists and meanders, it is clear that what you are reading requires a suspension of reality and a willingness to take in the well-crafted writing as merely a different way to see things. Kafka Tamura finds love and adventure as he fights to uncover the power of his father's oedipal prophecy. As he travels Japan as a runaway, he finds himself wondering if his path is chosen for him as fate, or if he is living a life of coincidence. While wondering, but not searching, for the mother who left him as a young child, his only sister gone with her, he discovers much more than he bargained for. Having lived in Japan, the descriptions of the people and the places immediately drew me back to times spent in this friendly, yet oftentimes exotic locale. Reading Kafka on the Shore made Japan seem less foreign, and more strange at the same time. The language is compelling, even as it has been translated to English - a notable feat not generally achieved. Murakami will be regarded as one of the world's most unique and creative fiction writers and Kafka on the Shore is the perfect example of all he brings to the written page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was really taken deep into this book. Couldn't put it down. He is now one of my favorite authors.
Anonymous 4 months ago
This is a great novel, that carries a reader through the philosophical debates of one's lives in disguise of a exciting , twisting storyline that truly makes one wonder
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual in his books, you have a surreal story where reality and dreams, the grotesque and beauty, kindness and dark raw emotions intertwine. Overall one of my favourite books from him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great book. Beautifully written. Thanks for the translation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Murakami is a genius!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To read Kafka on the Shore is to weave through the malleable boundary between reality and fantasy, to meet philosophical prostitute, talking cats, and characters like Johnny Walker and Colonel Sanders, to dream of the dialectics of Hegal and the continuous time of Bergson converging with the Oedipal complex, to journey into Haruki Murakami’s imagination. I want to know whether Kafka killed his father, whether the librarian was his mother, and whether he was dreaming when he met his mother. I want to know whether Nakata was just fantasizing that he could talk to cats. But as in Murakami’s other two novels, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, reality and dream synthesize into a world that transcends truth or illusion. And Murakami takes us along his wonderland and shows what we too could imagine if we free our minds from the biases, the limits, and the cannots we have accepted as truth. Reality almost seems sterile when we immerse ourselves in Murakami’s surrealism. And I invite you to dream along with Murakami on a shore far into the sea of imagination where a song’s lyrics echo back into reality. Leonard Seet
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
elencheraDB More than 1 year ago
I’m working steadily through Murakami’s books. Norwegian Wood remains my favourite book not just from the Japanese master but of all time. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was very different but something about it left me in a state of wonderment and awe at this genius. Next up for me is Kafka on the Shore. This acclaimed novel follows two narratives that have eventual links. The first sees 15 year old Kafka Tamura flee from his father in Tokyo where he eventually comes to Takamatsu. Kafka’s father has given his son strange portents about a modern day Oedipal tragedy playing out for Kafka. Kafka is somewhat lost in the world, having been abandoned by his mother and sister years before. Kafka suspects he sees his mother and sister in some of the women he meets but this forms one of the novels many riddles. At a library in Takamatsu, Kafka comes to stay and work, forming a close friendship with Oshima and becoming fascinated by the owner, Miss Saeki, whose past is one of tragedy. Elsewhere we have the story of Mr Nakata, an elderly man who is mentally challenged but can talk to cats. As a boy, Nakata was part of a group of schoolchildren that simultaneously fell into comas for no apparent reason. Though the children awoke unharmed, Nakata remained in a coma and when he did come to was a very different person. Like Kafka, Nakata begins a journey of his own away from Tokyo, finding kindness in strangers and later friendship from a truck driver, Hoshino, who stays with the old man and helps him complete his quest. Aside from these concurrent journeys there are strange things going on in the novel such as fish raining from the skies, a pimp that resembles Colonel Sanders and even two soldiers that appear from a forest having seemingly not aged. Once again, this is weird, wonderful and magical Murakami all rolled into one. While those descriptions don’t do the book justice, it is hard to elaborate on this fascinating book. Murakami answered over a 1,000 questions from readers on a Japanese website, readers eager to know the true meaning behind it all. Truth be told, the reader can take from this their own meaning. Murakami suggests reading the book at least twice to form a better opinion for yourself but it seems there are no right or wrong answers, and doesn’t that make for a memorable read? Between the real world and the significance of dreams and alternate realities, I found my own meanings in Kafka on the Shore and although I personally don’t rate this quite as highly as Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, it retains the essence of what I love about Murakami: the compelling characters, the mystery, depictions of Japanese life be it exciting or monotonous, and just that seamless writing style that the author probably finds easy but leaves the rest of us bewildered. Another Murakami masterpiece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Makes me wish I could write.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some of Murakami's best work. I've read all of his books and while I still like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the best, Kafka on the Shore is a great metaphysical ride!
FIRE22 More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite Murakami book. The characters stay on your mind days after you have finished reading the book. I love how Murakami plays with words and come up with interesting thought that would haunt your mind. Two thumbs up! Next book to read: 1Q84 :))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of course, another amazingly, refreshingly, beautifully written and -at times- awkward novel by Murakami. I swear, I am in love with this man's mind. The stories he portrays are so out-of-this-world and interesting, you cant help but marvel at them. Kafka on the Shore is about a 15 year old boy that fulfills a rather sad destiny and about a 52 year old man named Nakata that -without knowing it- helps Kafka fulfill his destiny. As always, Murakami's stories contain rather strange sex scenes so be on the lookout for some. Im trying to read all of Murakami's novels and this is my 5th one. Im currently reading Dance, Dance, Dance. This novel gets 4.7 stars.
DancingDon More than 1 year ago
Murakami is a unique writer who weaves the mundane with the far reaches of imagination in a seamless fashion which leads the reader to terrifying and fantastical places with an ease that is itself seductively unsettling. Think Borges meets Tom Robbins.....
Alex62AB More than 1 year ago
My family likes to say that I am a book snob. I tell them that I enjoy quality books. There's a difference. I don't enjoy mindless fiction, the type of books that you can tell the ending just by reading the synopsis on the back. I want to have to think while I read, and I HATE when everything is tied up neatly in the end, with the whole plot explained. Kafka on the Shore is exactly what I love in a book. A complex plot with 3 dimensional characters with a plot that takes serious thought to understand, but one that can still be enjoyed. It is a story that has to be read through more than once in order to get the full effect. If you are a fan of smart fiction, Kafka on the Shore is a good bet.