Read To Win

Seven reasons you must read Haruki Murakami’s new book

'The Strange Library' is a small but absorbing package of text and visuals, a microcosm of Murakami’s strange and sublime world.

In Haruki Murakami we trust. His fiction balances itself with perfect poise on that tightrope between immense depth and alarming accessibility. You never quite know what to make of his work: is it profound in its insistence on fusing alternate realities and open-ended problems with no solutions, or is it just easy-to-read surrealism that only conveys the impression of literary quality? Is the speed with which you can read a Murakami novel a deterrent to his winning the Nobel?

Now, his latest adventure in the book trade leaves a similar trail of confusion. Is The Strange Library, a lavishly, quirkily and self-consciously illustrated combination of image and text a representation of where fiction can go in the digital age, or is it a gimmick to sell a story of less than thousand words at an overpriced £12.99 (about Rs 1,300) just before Christmas?

Translated into English only now, but not a recent book, The Strange Library was published in Japan back in 2008. It tells of a young boy whose mother is expecting him home for dinner, but who blunders into a library where he himself might become the librarian’s dinner. Considering the lack of length, revealing any more of the lot would give the entire game away.

Most Murakami tropes are in attendance in this fable or extended nightmare. There’s food, there’s a mysterious girl, there’s no cat but there’s a bird. And, most of all, there’s the consistent logic of a dream in the storyline. For anyone who’s unwilling to try a full-length novel by the Japanese rock star of contemporary literature, here’s a shortcut to his writing.

The real value of this volume, however, lies in the interplay of visuals and text, with the latter often flowing into the former. It is, in a word, beautiful, and the whimsical images enhance the unpredictability of what is, nevertheless, a tightly controlled narrative. Ted Goossen’s translation runs just as effortlessly as Murakami’s unencumbered and luminous storytelling.

But what to make of this strange tale? The identity of the writer forces attention to what might have been passed off as a smart story had someone else written it. The metaphor of eating brains crammed with knowledge is too delicious to ignore, as is the narrator’s Kafkaesque predicament of being imprisoned without any obvious reason.

Are books and knowledge meant to be a jail, then, breaking out of which can only mean deep personal loss? As usual, Murakami provokes a search of one’s own soul, forcing us to weigh the price we have to pay to get what we seek. This is a story which takes far less time to read than to ponder over.

Here, then, are the seven reasons to read The Strange Library.

7. How often do you get to read TWO new Murakamis in one year? Don’t forget that Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage were released earlier in 2014.

6. It’s a beautiful, beautiful, book. In fact, the UK and US editions have different designs, and both are worth buying and preserving.

5. There are no cats. Welcome relief.

4. It’s the quickest way to find out what Murakami writes about. Definitely better than reading Wikipedia pages.

3. It’s, as the cliché goes, unputdownable. You have to read till the end to find out what happened. Does the boy escape?

2. For passages such as this: ‘“I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together – your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”’

1. And the number one reason is: This book is about loneliness. And who isn’t lonely?

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Tracing the formation of Al Qaeda and its path to 9/11

A new show looks at some of the crucial moments leading up to the attack.

“The end of the world war had bought America victory but not security” - this quote from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, ‘The Looming Tower’, gives a sense of the growing threat to America from Al Qaeda and the series of events that led to 9/11. Based on extensive interviews, including with Bin Laden’s best friend in college and the former White House counterterrorism chief, ‘The Looming Tower’ provides an intimate perspective of the 9/11 attack.

Lawrence Wright chronicles the formative years of Al Qaeda, giving an insight in to Bin Laden’s war against America. The book covers in detail, the radicalisation of Osama Bin Laden and his association with Ayman Al Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who preached that only violence could change history. In an interview with Amazon, Wright shared, “I talked to 600-something people, but many of those people I talked to again and again for a period of five years, some of them dozens of times.” Wright’s book was selected by TIME as one of the all-time 100 best nonfiction books for its “thoroughly researched and incisively written” account of the road to 9/11 and is considered an essential read for understanding Islam’s war on the West as it developed in the Middle East.

‘The Looming Tower’ also dwells on the response of key US officials to the rising Al Qaeda threat, particularly exploring the turf wars between the FBI and the CIA. This has now been dramatized in a 10-part mini-series of the same name. Adapted by Dan Futterman (of Foxcatcher fame), the series mainly focuses on the hostilities between the FBI and the CIA. Some major characters are based on real people - such as John O’ Neill (FBI’s foul-mouthed counterterrorism chief played by Jeff Daniels) and Ali Soufan (O’ Neill’s Arabic-speaking mentee who successfully interrogated captured Islamic terrorists after 9/11, played by Tahar Rahim). Some are composite characters, such as Martin Schmidt (O’Neill’s CIA counterpart, played by Peter Sarsgaard).

The series, most crucially, captures just how close US intelligence agencies had come to foiling Al Qaeda’s plans, just to come up short due to internal turf wars. It follows the FBI and the CIA as they independently follow intelligence leads in the crises leading up to 9/11 – the US Embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on US warship USS Cole in Yemen – but fail to update each other. The most glaring example is of how the CIA withheld critical information – Al Qaeda operatives being hunted by the FBI had entered the United States - under the misguided notion that the CIA was the only government agency authorised to deal with terrorism threats.

The depth of information in the book has translated into a realistic recreation of the pre-9/11 years on screen. The drama is even interspersed with actual footage from the 9/11 conspiracy, attack and the 2004 Commission Hearing, linking together the myriad developments leading up to 9/11 with chilling hindsight. Watch the trailer of this gripping show below.

Play

The Looming Tower is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, along with a host of Amazon originals and popular movies and TV shows. To enjoy unlimited ad free streaming anytime, anywhere, subscribe to Amazon Prime Video.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon Prime Video and not by the Scroll editorial team.