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Murakami's 'Library' Is Dark, Creamy And Grainy At The Same Time

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Haruki Murakami's writing is often full of surreal and sometimes grotesque imagery. And now his new novella, "The Strange Library," also comes with colorful, dream-like illustrations by the designer Chip Kidd. It's like a fairy tale for adults. Here's Alan Cheuse with the review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The library was even more hushed than usual, remarks the boy with an inquiring mind. On the way home from class, he stops to return some books and to ask for a few others on a subject that he says has just popped into his head - tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. The librarian sends him down to room 107 - a creepy room, the boy calls it.

That room leads to a cell, and in that cell, a bald librarian orders him to commit those books to memory, after which he'll be allowed to go. But when the bald librarian leaves, the boy's jailer, a small fellow wearing a sheepskin, quickly puts an end to that fiction. What will really happen is that once the boy memorizes the books, the bald man will lop off the top of his head and eat his fact-filled brains because, the man explains, brains packed with knowledge are yummy.

The student, already terribly upset that his mother will worry if he doesn't make it home for dinner, becomes horribly afraid that he won't leave the library alive. As if all this weren't dream-like and dark enough, the story then opens up to even more fantastic elements. Ghost girls slip between the bars of the boy's cell. A bird grows as large as a bull. And yet, Murakami's genius keeps all this from seeming derivative.

The boy's fight to overcome the odds harks all the way back to the oldest myths. Stories of kids being locked up by evil adults remain an old literary turn. And this young student's struggle to return home to his mother will make Freudians of all ages sit up and pay attention. From myth to fairytale to the study of the modern psyche - that's a lot of ground for a short piece of fiction to cover. But I can already feel that just having read it a couple of times, not yet committing it to memory, maybe my own brain has become nice and creamy and maybe even sort of grainy at the same time.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The book is "The Strange Library" by Haruki Murakami. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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