Lost & found in the ‘Library’

Print This Page

First Posted: 1/19/2015

For some of us, a library is a safe haven — a place of quiet where one willingly loses themselves in order to find the adventure that surrounds them. As author, George R.R. Martin wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” In Haruki Murakami’s latest work, “The Strange Library,” readers enter into an unusual but mesmerizing quest of one young boy’s adventure into the unknown.

Originally written in 1982 as a short story, “Toshokan kitan,” this beautifully ornate book has since been translated into a novella that combines both word and illustration. Translated by Ted Goossen and illustrated by author and graphic designer, Chip Kidd, one might quickly notice some interesting parallels of Murakami’s work to that of “Labyrinth” by Terry Jones and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. However, “The Strange Library” remains distinct from much I have read this year, as well as the years previous, in that it is both visually stunning as it is linguistically precise. Having read Murakami’s works (“1Q84” and “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”) in the past, one knows how brilliant his words paint the page.

One young nameless boy enters a mysterious library to return his books. There, he is advised to go to Room 107. Initially, our young narrator seems puzzled, but finds himself traveling to the basement (a rabbit hole of sorts) where reality soon becomes disjointed. The story then spirals forward to include a small cast of characters both beautiful and monstrous that bring the narrator to question his choices and those he comes to encounter. While the plot and illustrations would suggest a seemingly lighthearted theme, much of the story instead, depicts a surreal and darkly somber portrayal of life.

The book begins and ends with great circular narration. One door opening as another closes where we step into a dimly lit yet poignant retrospection of life: “I lie here by myself in the dark at two o’clock in the morning and think about that cell in the library basement. About how it feels to be alone, and the depth of the darkness surrounding me. Darkness as pitch black as the night of the new moon.”

We complete the work meditating on the words and images and what they all might mean. Look closer, dig deeper, and, most of all, embrace the unknown, knowing change will always come.