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Published on: 07/29/15 5:13 PM

Book review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami`s The Strange Library (Harvill Secker, London).
Translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen.

So. Is this a fable for children and adults alike? Maybe. Is this another The Little Prince, another Alice, another Jonathan Livingston Seagull? Not really. Is this a story with a moral? Well, the jury is out on that too.

What it is, is a strangely delightful kind of book, with an old, used library card stuck onto the front of the book, with pages of strange and wondrous illustrations: keys, feathers, teacups, dogs, parakeets, doughnuts. Just the kind of pictures you always wanted to see in books but don`t often get to see, unless they are books about birds, food, animals and the contents of a locksmith`s bag.

The story, you ask? It`s about this serious and earnest little boy who goes to the library to return a couple of books and to, if possible, borrow one. The books he has just returned are your everyday reading for little boys: How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd. The book he wants? Why, another routine boys` tale: how they collected taxes in the Ottoman Empire.

He is directed to the basement area of the library where indeed, they do have a few books on just the topic. They also have an evil old man down there, who imprisons the little boy (and we are talking ball and chain here) and tells him to memorise the contents of the books because he is to be tested; if he passes the test, he will be freed.

Not really, the Sheep Man down in the basement tells the boy. The old man is more likely to gobble up the boy`s juicy brains because all too unfortunately, he has a penchant for eating brains. The Sheep Man wears the skin of sheep and is quite friendly; he is also a dab hand at frying up delicious doughnuts. Then along comes a lovely little girl who speaks to the boy with her hands.

And of course, soon enough, the three plan a break-out. Do they succeed? What happens to this eminently likeable boy, whose main worry is that his mother must be worrying about him at home?

I`m not going to put in any spoilers here, read the book and find out for yourself. It`s a slim little book, about 78 pages long…at least I think so, because page numbers appear only in the most random fashion.

Like I told you. Strange. Wondrous. Read it, read meanings into it. Psychoanalyze it, it`s a Murakami work after all. Basically, have fun with it. Which you will. I promise.

allegoryfableHaruki MurakamiReviewThe Strange Library

Sheila Kumar • July 29, 2015

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