‘The Strange Library’ by Haruki Murakami

‘The Strange Library’ by Haruki Murakami  (2014) – 89 pages    Translated by Ted Goossen   Grade: B


“The library was even more hushed than usual.

My new leather shoes clacked against the gray linoleum. Their hard, dry sound was unlike my normal footsteps. Every time I get new shoes, it takes me a while to get used to their noise.”

A school boy goes to a library to return two books, ‘How to Build a Submarine’ and ‘Memoirs of a Shepherd’.  He also wants to check out some books on collecting taxes in the Ottoman Empire (Why not?).  The librarian tells him these books must be read on the premises, and the boy gets sent to the room #107 deep in the basement of the library and is shackled with a ball and chain.  The old man who runs this section of the library likes to eat brains, so locks the boy in the library room.

“Brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

 The boy’s mother might be having a breakdown, and he must take care of his pet starling.  The boy has the help of a friendly sheep man who likes to make doughnuts as well as a mysterious beautiful ethereal girl.

Thus we have ‘The Strange Library’, the first foray into children’s fiction by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.  This book would be fine for boys and girls of about age 9 to 12 years old.  The story has a dreamlike quality that almost, but not quite, wanders into nightmare territory.  Of course it is all playful nonsense, but it worked for me.

The art work by Chip Kidd is surreal – pictures of eyes and mazes and sheep and shoes, etc.  The book design is unusual state-of-the-art, and a kid might be intrigued with that also.

A parent could do a lot worse than getting their kid started on Haruki Murakami at an early age.  What does ‘The Strange Library’ have in common with Murakami’s more adult novels?  There’s the playfulness, the goofy sense of humor, the creepy pristine weirdness of it all.  I doubt the story here is going to win any awards, but it is not bad.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jonathan on December 21, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    I had the same trouble with my local library when I tried to take out a book on the tax system of the Persian Empire – they only got half of my brain though.


  2. I might get this for my thirteen-year-old goddaughter – I think she’d like it.


  3. Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on December 23, 2014 at 6:49 PM

    Didn’t realise it was intended as a children’s book – I just read it and loved it. The UK edition has very different non-Chip Kidd cover and the illustrations within are mostly from ‘old books found in the London Library’ – don’t know if they’re the same!


    • Hi Annabel,
      Yes, I did read that the illustration for the English version was much different from the American version. The Chip Kidd illustrations were very abstract, and I am not sure they worked all that well. It might have been interesting to compare the two versions.


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