The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

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Many of Haruki Murakami’s novels have underlying meanings, or parables. Most often his stories are filled with science fiction, cats, bizarre dreams and classical music. His 2014 novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is another testament to his creative nature, spinning a more realist tale than fans are used to. Given that his novels usually are translated and released in English every four to five years, it was pleasant news when he announced that we’d be treated to a short novella towards the end of the year. The Strange Library is a 90 something paged story filled with Murakami “bizarreness”, underground labyrinths and strange men who wear sheepskin.

The story begins when a young boy enters his local library to return a few books he had borrowed. Once returning them he asks the clerk in charge where in the library he can go to check out some more books. The clerk promptly leads him into the basement to room 107, where the young man finds a man much his elder, sitting at a small desk. He inquires with the old man about checking out some books about tax collecting in the Ottoman Empire. This wasn’t a topic he was earnestly interested in, but rather one that had crossed his mind once upon a time. The old man disappeared for a bit, only to return with three large tomes, all about tax collecting in the Ottoman Empire. The old man quickly informs the young lad that the books are for “Internal Use Only” and are not allowed to be taken out of the Reading Room. Our main character quickly resigns to spending 30 minutes there, before running home to have supper with his mother. Only instead of being allowed to read for a mere 30 minutes in the creepy basement of the library, the young man is led through a maze of tunnels where he is tossed into a holding cell and told he will be kept until he memorizes all three volumes.

The Strange Library is a compelling story for a number of reasons, but mostly because of it’s very fun use of pictures or comics. Many books for kids or even young adults have transitioned into utilizing graphics, such as pictures or comic strips to tell the story. Murakami’s newest work does that too, but with a different approach. The pictures don’t exactly tell the actions, but rather give the reader an appropriate view of what the surroundings of the main character might look like: the creepy corridors beneath the library, his comrades and even what his greatest fears might look like. Though it isn’t the longest story, it has no intentions of staying past its welcome. The Strange Library is long enough to keep the reader interested and ends just when the story becomes mesmerizing enough to almost ruin itself.

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