RIP X and Diversiverse: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

I knew I would be reading a book by a Japanese author for RIP X. I just didn’t expect it to be Haruki Murakami. He does write slightly odd books but I guess I never thought any of them really fit into the RIP mood. I can think of plenty of other Japanese writers that would easily do that like Natsuo Kirino, Keigo Higashino, Koji Suzuki.

So it was interesting to read this little volume from Murakami. The American version of it has a flap-over cover. Or whatever the professional term for that is. See the photo in the middle. Essentially the red cover flips open as does the bit at the bottom. And each page has an image on one side and text on the other. The text is alarmingly large but you’ll get used to it. I suppose that is how the publisher managed to turn what is essentially a short story into a book-length publication.

I’m not complaining though. I like the use of the images through the book. It made for a different read.

Opening the book up, top flap then bottom is a little like opening a box. A boxful of secrets, a hidden room, a library of deep dark weirdness, a prison of sorts.

Our nameless young boy goes to the library to return books and read up on Ottoman Empire taxation. And he is led to a room downstairs, a room he never knew existed. There he is told that he will be imprisoned in a room in the library and he has to memorise three books on the Ottoman Empire tax system. If not, his brains will be feasted on.

(Way to encourage kids to spend time at the library, Mr Murakami!)

Anyway, a strange little read from the master of Japanese fiction. Suitable indeed for RIP and whatever odd reading mood you are in.

What I found fascinating also is that the British version of the book has different illustrations, as this article from The Guardian shows. 

The Millions examines this a bit more, and shows us the cover of the original Japanese book, and further ignites my curiosity about the British version: “Open up that edition to any page and the word “vintage” will spring to mind, from the lovely marbled endpapers to the reproduced antique plates of dogs and birds.”

Apparently, Chip Kidd’s American design had some familiar with Japanese publishing shaking their heads in dismay!




I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 


Sputnik Sweetheart

“A deep silence ensued. Her mind was as clear as the winter night sky, the Big Dipper and North Star in place, twinkling brightly. She had so many things she had to write, so many thoughts and ideas would gush out like lava, congealing into a steady stream of inventive works the likes of which the world had never seen. People’s eyes would pop wide open at the sudden debut of this Promising Young Writer with a Rare Talent. A photo of her, smiling coolly, would appear in the arts section of the newspaper, and editors would beat a path to her door.

But it never happened that way. Sumire wrote some words that had a beginning. And some that had an end. But never one that had both a beginning and an end.”

A while ago, I’d had too much of Haruki Murakami and had to take my leave of him (it was a pretty long one – I didn’t read any in 2010, and only his non-fiction, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, in 2009. So the last Murakami I read was in 2008.) But when I returned to Murakami, it felt good. It was comforting, falling into his world of quiet, of music and literature, of Japan, of friendships and love again. An interesting relationship between a man and a woman, and another woman with that woman, a tale of early morning phone calls, of changes, of affection, repressed and unrequited love and longing. And as I read about this relationship of Sumire and the unnamed narrator (we never get to know our narrator’s name although this story is as much his), and of Sumire and an older woman Miu, who eventually becomes her boss, I am waiting, expecting that bit, that twist in the story. And then it comes and it is bizarre, a little creepy in its own way, a little like thinking you heard something in the middle of the night, then you wake up the next morning wondering if you had actually heard it or if it were just a dream.

“Sumire and I were a lot alike. Devouring books came as naturally to us as breathing. Every spare moment we’d settle down in some quiet corner, endlessly turning page after page, Japanese novels, foreign novels, new works, classics, avant-garde to best-seller – as long as there was something intellectually stimulating in a book, we’d read it.”

It takes a while to emerge from this book and back to the gloom and wet of my own settings. I am a little jealous of their journey to that little Greek island. It brings a little warmth into my living room where I am seated on my couch with the fleece throw over my socked feet.

I am glad to have picked up Murakami again. I just reckon one requires quite a breather in between his books, although two years is probably too long a break. However, I have to be honest and say that I am constantly confused by which of his novels I’ve read!

I read Sputnik Sweetheart as part of the Global Reading Challenge (Asia).



Murakami’s novels (with English publication dates, but in order of Japanese publication dates)
Hear the Wind Sing (1987)
Pinball, 1973 (1985)
A Wild Sheep Chase (1989)
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1991)
Norwegian Wood (2000) – Watch the trailer of the film adaptation of Norwegian Wood here.
Dance Dance Dance (1994)
South of the Border, West of the Sun (2000)
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (1997)
Sputnik Sweetheart (2001)
Kafka on the Shore (2005)
After Dark (2007)
1Q84 (2011)