The odd chapters tell the 15 year old Kafka's story as he runs away from his father's house to escape an Oedipal curse and to embark upon a quest to find his mother and sister. After a series of adventures, he finds shelter in a quiet, private library in Takamatsu, run by the distant and aloof Miss Saeki and the androgynous Oshima. There he spends his days reading the unabridged Richard Francis Burton translation of A Thousand and One Nights and the collected works of Natsume Sōseki until the police begin inquiring after him in connection with a brutal murder.
The even chapters tell Nakata's story. Due to his uncanny abilities, he has found part-time work in his old age as a finder of lost cats (a clear reference to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). The case of one particular lost cat puts him on a path that ultimately takes him far away from his home, ending up on the road for the first time in his life. He befriends a truck-driver named Hoshino. Hoshino takes him on as a passenger in his truck and soon becomes very attached to the old man.
Haruki Murakami's work "Kafka on the Shore" is a story of two men who are traveling for different reasons. Murakami structures the work using magical realism. Kafka Tamura has run away from an abusive father; while Nakata is an older man who is able to talk to cats. Both men search for the door to a spiritual realm. Murakami opens the story with information about Kafka and his background; his mother leaves the family when he is little, taking his sister with him. This event motivates the father to be emotionally abusive towards him. Questions surround this character when he wakes up one day covered in blood. Kafka searches for answers. In contrast, Nakata is in search for a lost cat. Nakata's background is unique, because he just woke up one day with this ability. By the end of "Kafka on the Shore," the two men experience different types of relationships. They enter the spiritual world, but later return to the real world to continue their lives.