Fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura has a bad relationship with Koichi, his sculptor father, and his mother left with his sister when he was four. The insensitive Koichi has told the boy that one day he will have sex with both his mother and sister, a prophecy tainting his desire to find them. Kafka runs away from home, and Murakami alternates his story with that of Satoru Nakata, an elderly man from the same Tokyo neighborhood. Nakata has lost his memory and the ability to read and write following a mysterious accident when he was a schoolboy in 1944. He lives on a government subsidy and the money he makes from finding lost cats, with which he can communicate much better than with humans. Nakata is an extreme example of Murakami’s patented passive protagonists. He simply accepts what life offers, enjoying its simple pleasures.
Kafka makes his way to Takamutsu on the island of Shikoku and to the Komura Memorial Library, where a wealthy man’s collection resides. He meets Oshima, a library assistant, and Miss Saeki, the library director. She was once famous for composing and singing a popular song, “Kafka on the Shore,” but retreated from the world following the death of her lover, the son of the Komura family. Kafka becomes Oshima’s assistant in exchange for room and board and finds himself visited by the spirit of the younger Miss Saeki, whom he suspects may be his mother. He also meets Sakura, a young hairdresser, and is torn between wanting to have sex with her and wanting her to be his lost sister. Kafka and Oshima discuss the Oedipal nature of his quandary.
Nakata flees Tokyo after a psychopath calling himself Johnnie Walker, actually Kafka’s father, forces the old man...
(The entire section is 696 words.)