The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
-- Franklin D. Roosevelt
A young boy stops by the public library on the way home from school. He has experienced a sudden curiosity regarding the process of tax collection in the Ottoman empire, and he wishes to read a few books to satisfy this craving.
So begins Haruki Murakami's allegorical tale "The Strange Library." The boy is lured and trapped in an inescapable prison by an evil old man who likes to consume brains saturated with facts and data (not to be confused with knowledge.) Strange creatures prowl the dark, labyrinthian passages of this prison -- a sheep-man who supplies the boy with food until he is ready to be eaten by the old man, a mysterious, pretty girl who keeps visiting the boy and bringing him treats, but is invisible to everybody else. How will the boy escape? Will he make it home in time for dinner, for his mother gets very upset if he does not?
Part Alice in wonderland, part Kafka, and part Odyssey - this fantastical tale of imagination (pun intended), especially emphasizes a child's view of the world -- a place where security is almost always equalized to good home-cooked food, and an insatiable curiosity often takes them down a few rabbit holes. In the meantime, Murakami's genius lies in introducing subtle commentary about the current process of educating young minds -- the main antagonist (the evil old man) acts like a very opinionated gatekeeper to the knowledge that the boy seeks, and the very act of fattening, or ripening, a brain by inundated facts until it is ready for societal consumption is a very personal issue on a global scale. Murakami does provide a silver lining - all it takes is the courage to take the "first step" in the right direction, for us to find our way back to "home," and it is our imagination, creativity and trust in our fellow travelers that will often guide us there.
At 88 pages, the book is an easy read. It is also one of those designs that simply put, cannot be enjoyed digitally. The book is sprinkled with tactile devices that add to the charm of the story, as well as provide a more immediate, physical connection to the dilemma faced by the main character. A stroke of genius that can also quickly turn gimmicky, the designers of my edition (purchased from UK) however, demonstrate the necessary acumen to walk this tightrope without succumbing to the curse of overdoing.
A delight for Murakami fans, this could be a very good introduction to new readers as well! Heartily recommended!!
(A sample of the amazing design in the images below:)