Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Strange Story of the Strange Library

Announcements have started popping up on the internet that a new book by Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library, is to appear in English on December 2. The translator is Ted Goossen. The cover photograph (left) comes from Amazon US, which describes the book thus: "A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami's wild imagination."
Lindesay Irvine writes about the book for the The Guardian. After briefly summarizing the story he quotes Liz Foley, publishing director at Harvill Secker: “We are very excited to be publishing a special illustrated edition of The Strange Library as an unusual gift book for Christmas. Murakami’s imagination is unique and this is a
                                 wonderfully creepy tale that is sure to delight his fans." 

Irvine also mentions that the announcement explains the mystery of "Strange Library" cards that were handed out to people waiting in line to get into the "Murakami event" during the International Book Festival in Edinburgh last month.
The photograph, included in the article, comes from a tweet by Michael Reeve:
"Someone is handing out cards to the Murakami queue. No-one knows what they're for. 5:27 AM - 30 Aug 2014 London, United Kingdom"

It seems like a brilliant idea for creating interest in the new book!

To read the whole Guardian article, go to: posts the image of the British cover and the following description:
'All I did was go to the library to borrow some books'.
"On his way home from school, the young narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He pops into the local library to see if it has a book on the subject. This is his first mistake. Led to a special 'reading room' in a maze under the library by a strange old man, he finds himself imprisoned with only a sheep man, who makes excellent donuts, and a girl, who can talk with her hands, for company. His mother will be worrying why he hasn't returned in time for dinner and the old man seems to have an appetite for eating small boy's brains. How will he escape?"
Here are the links to the publishers' announcements:
Knopf (for the American edition):
Harvill Secker (for the British edition):, where you can also see a picture of people lining up in Edinburgh in front of Waterstone's bookstore, where the Murakami event took place.

It is worth pointing out that in this case, as with other recent publications, the English translation is not the first to appear in a European language. Fushigi na toshokan already appeared in German last year in Ursula Gräfe's translation as Die unheimliche Bibliothek. The illustrations were done by Kat Menschik.  Here is a picture of the cover:

Other internet sites announcing the release of The Strange Library in English say that the book appeared in Japanese in 2008, giving the impression that this is a fairly recent work (see: Entertainment and Shortlist).  In fact, there is a much longer history to this novella, going back over 30 years.

The first version of the story was called Toshokan kitan [Strange Tales from a Library] and was originally published in six parts in a magazine called Torefuru in 1982 (June through November). The following year, it was included in the 1983 anthology Kangarū biyori [Perfect Day for Kangaroos].
Twenty-two years later, in 2005, Haruki Murakami revised the novella and published it under a different title Fushigi na toshokan [The Strange (Mysterious, Amazing, Wondrous) Library] as a picture book [絵本].   Three years after that, in 2008, the book was published again with a slightly different cover, beautifully illustrated by Maki Sasaki. Here are pictures of a tax collector from the Ottoman empire and of the Sheep Man.

Since it had to be transformed from a novella into a story for a picture book, Murakami revised it. The story has become shorter, the language simpler, and the original six longish chapters turned into twenty six very short ones. However, the story line is not that different.

Japanese Wikipedia gives two examples of how the language was changed in order to become appropriate for a picture book (絵本に相応しい言葉遣い), which might be read by children (or not).
1. オスマン・トルコ帝国の収税政策 ("tax collection policies of the Ottoman empire") changed into オスマントルコ帝国の税金のあつめ方 ("ways of collecting taxes in the Ottoman empire"), and 2. 禁帯出 (in-library use only) became 貸し出し禁止 (cannot be checked out).

Readers of this blog will know already that Murakami often revises his works, both short stories and novels, before they get re-issued as pocket editions or get included in Zensakuhin [Collected Works]. Some notable examples of stories that were considerably changed during revisions are Mekura yanagi to [,] nemuru onna (published in English in 2006 as Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman in Philip Gabriel's translation) or Bāto Bakarakku wa o suki? [Do You Like Burt Bacharach?, 1982] which became Mado [Window, 1991] and in Jay Rubin's translation was included in The Elephant Vanishes. Some of these changes are very small, others extensive.

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