Fushigi na toshokan, by Haruki Murakami, was published in 2005. It was translated into English by Ted Goossen as The Strange Library, and published in 2014.
The first sentence is: “The library was even more hushed than usual.”
A young boy (the book’s narrator), on his way home from school, stops into the library to return a couple of books. One is named How to Build a Submarine. The other is named Memoirs of a Shepherd. Neither are overdue. The boy always returns library books on time.
He’s also looking for some other books. The woman at the return desk tells him to turn right at the bottom of the stairs and go straight down the corridor to Room 107. The boy finds an old man there. The boy explains that he wants to learn how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire.
The boy isn’t actually all that eager to learn about taxes in the Ottoman Empire, but the question popped into his head earlier that day. His mother always told him that if he didn’t know something, he should look it up.
The old man is eager to help. He brings the boy three large, and very old, books about taxes in the Ottoman Empire. The boy thanks him, and starts to leave with the books. The old man stops him – those books are for “Internal Use Only” and can’t leave the library. The boy admits that he wasn’t really very interested in the subject, and besides, the library will be closing soon, and his mother will start to worry if he isn’t home soon.
The old man becomes angry. He accuses the boy of wasting the library’s time and resources. The boy feels sorry, and agrees to read the books – but for thirty minutes only.
The old man tells the boy to follow him to the Reading Room. He follows the old man down hallways, through forks and intersections, and around twists and turns. The boy wonders how a city library could afford to build such a large labyrinth. The boy follows him down some very long, very dark, stairs. There, the boy is introduced to a man wrapped in a sheep skin. This is not the Reading Room the boy was expecting.
This is no ordinary library. Or, if the sheep-man is to be believed, it is.
The Strange Library is beautifully illustrated with collages and drawings. I don’t know who the artist is.
I downloaded the book onto my phone, but I understand that the pages of the physical copies unfold in amazing and interesting ways. I may check out the physical book in the future to experience that.
I knew, before I started, that this book was short, but I didn’t realize how short. The digital copy I checked out had just 109 ePages, with many of them taken up by nearly full-page illustrations. I read it in one afternoon and two commutes.
The Strange Library is a strange novel. It has many elements of horror to it, but it reads like a children’s fable.
I loved this book, although I wish there was more to it. It’s confusing and challenging and intriguing. It’s beautiful and horrific. It kept me a Haruki Murakami fan.
I loved The Strange Library, but I won’t recommend it unless you’re already a Murakami fan.
Why I chose this book:
I was on a Haruki Murakami kick when the 2018 Reading Challenge was published. I’d recently read 1Q84, Norwegian Wood, and Kafka on the Shore. I was eager to read more. I decided that something by Murakami would be my pick for a “book by an author of a different ethnicity than me”.
I began searching the internet for my next Murakami novel and found The Strange Library. I hadn’t heard of it before. I realized it would be a better fit a “book involving a library”. It was among the first three or four books to go on my “For Later” shelf, and the book by an author of a different ethnicity than me would go to someone other than Haruki Murakami.