Monday, January 12, 2015

The Strange Library :: ふしぎな図書館

No thanks to the man and the friends, I'm doomed to have to read all of Haruki Murakami's books so that I could argue with them about it. It's no fun arguing debating when I don't have the content.

So another one it is- 'The Strange Library' (ふしぎな図書館). It's written and first published in 2008 and now translated by Ted Goossen. As much as this is about the story and the writing, it's also about the illustrations. Long-time collaborator on graphics, Chip Kidd illustrated the American edition. I prefer the Japanese edition illustrated by Maki Sasaki. It's, how should I put it, more cute-sy compared to the American illustrations which play loads on surrealistic images in the style of pop-art and posters. (Reviews hereherehere and here.)

A schoolboy who stopped by the library on his way home from school, and asked to read about the Ottoman empire's system of tax collection. Unsurprisingly, that begins the adventure where he got imprisoned by a weird old man, cared for by another old man who wears a coat of sheepkin, and a strange young girl who only he seems to see, and who sends him food. He's supposed to finish all those books about tax collection, memorize them and then get his brains which would have been full of knowledge to be sucked out by the weird old man because fact-filled "brains packed with knowledge are yummy. They're nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time."

I finished the English book quickly. Read it a second time because it felt so different reading it in Japanese. This English version, felt unbelievably lame. Could it be the illustrations in this English version that threw me off? While the use of language in the Japanese version is still strange, the translation to English puts me off. This is exactly why I dislike Murakami's stories translated. I don't fancy him very much in the first place, but in English, I find his books rather unreadable. Not the surreal bits, but the unfinished details. It's a dark little thrilling tale of fantasy; the illustrations in the English version don't enhance the quiet horror. It's disappointing, to say the least. This is going to be good fodder for the arguments debates with the friends. Can't wait to do so! *rubs hands in glee*

After that, I never visited the city library again. I knew I should seek out one of the big shots who ran the place to explain what had happened to me, and to tell him about the cell-like room hidden deep in the basement. Otherwise, another child might have to endure the awful experience that I went through. Nevertheless, the mere sight of the library building at dusk was enough to stop me in my tracks. 
I do occasionally think about the new leather shoes I left behind in the basement, though. That leads me to memories of the sheep man and the beautiful voiceless girl. Did they really exist? How much of what I remember really happened? To be honest, I can't be certain. All I know for sure is that I lost my shoes and my pet starling. 
My mother died last Tuesday. She had been suffering from a mysterious illness, and that morning she quietly slipped away. There was a simple funeral, and now I am totally alone. No mother. No pet starling. No sheep man. No girl. 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.

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