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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Very Strange Library

A rule-abiding schoolboy steps into the city library, asks for books about tax collecting during the Ottoman Empire and becomes trapped in a bizarre underground world with a sheep-man and a voiceless girl. Things are not always what they seem in Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s works of magical realism. As the protagonist of The Strange Library puts it: “Our worlds are all jumbled together…sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t.”

The schoolboy and his unfortunate companions are imprisoned by an evil librarian who plans to suck out the boy’s brains after he has absorbed the knowledge of the chosen books. You see, libraries can’t really survive on their tiny budgets simply by lending out books. There’s a side business in brain-sucking. At least the food is good – the sheep-man makes fresh donuts every day, and the ethereal girl serves gourmet meals. But if the rules are broken, possible punishments include being thrown into a jar with 10,000 hairy caterpillars for three days. Worried about his mother and his pet sparrow, the boy plots his escape.

Several of Murakami’s magical realism novels include libraries and librarians as settings and characters. The library in Murakami’s fiction often serves as a gateway to a parallel reality. Kafka on the Shore is another novel by the author with a library and librarian as part of the theme.

The Strange Library is a short piece written early in Murakami’s career but only recently published in English. Described as a fairy tale for adults, the book is hauntingly enriched with custom art and design by Chip Kidd.

Other authors famous for magical realism, a genre in which magical elements occur in an otherwise realistic world, include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and Salman Rushdie. Ask your local (non-evil) librarians for other suggestions - we promise we'll leave your brain intact.

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

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