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MONKEY BUSINESS – 2011

Something every day—gettin up, goin to school
No need for me to complain—my objections overruled, ahh!
Too much monkey business, too much monkey business
Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!
Chuck Berry

Something every day—gettin up, goin to school
No need for me to complain—my objections overruled, ahh!
Too much monkey business, too much monkey business
Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!
Chuck Berry

This initial issue of the new annual English edition of the Japanese serial Monkey Business is welcome evidence of a fertile ongoing Japanese-American literary exchange via Brooklyn. Editor-translator Ted Goossen and his counter-part in Japan, Motoyuki Shibata “decided to create an annual English version” of the recent and (it appears) popular Japanese publication, so they “selected the most suitable pieces from the first year or so, and set about translating them with not a little help from [their] friends.” The editorial aim, as set forth by Shibata, is to confront “the aggravations we face every day” with the “liberating humor” a “work of art” such as the Chuck Berry tune above affords. The contents of Monkey Business delightfully showcase the strength of recent literary work coming out of Japan.

The range of the truly exemplary work is thoroughly diverse, including the traditional-leaning in form, yet forward looking poem “Monkey Haiku” by Minoru Ozawa: “Bear flesh / Monkey meat / In the same pouch.”

In addition there is an extensive, far-ranging interview with the internationally well-known novelist Haruki Murakami, a variety of short stories, prose sketches, and even a manga (Japanese literary comic/graphic novel) version of Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” by the Brother and Sister Nishioka. The issue as a whole is very much alive and of the moment.

The majority of poems reference the “monkey” spirit of the journal, as can be seen by the haiku above as well as these bawdy lines from Masayo Koike’s “When Monkeys Sing”:

Monkeys run deep, they are to our existence
As miso paste in soup
Suffusing the world with their presence.
I once gave birth to a monkey
In Shibuya’s Red Cross Hospital, on a stainless-steel gurney
I tried to hide it in my shorts,
But my crack is so red and rough.

Of course, Monkey as a trickster character plays a substantial role in the mythological imagination of the Far East, born in part from Wu Cheng’en’s sixteenth century Chinese novel Journey to the West on which Atsushi Nakajima’s delightfully included tale “Sandy’s Lament—from the Memoirs of the Sramana Wujing” is based.

An easy-going congeniality is evident throughout the issue, from Ted Goossen’s referral in his short prefatory note to his co-editor as “Moto,” to the interview with Haruki Murakami by Hideo Furukawa presented as a conversation between “Hideo” and “Haruki.” Such informality is especially surprising in a journal where contributor notes indicate award-winners with prolific and wide publication and makes for a welcome departure from the often more straight-laced public face East-West relationships often present.

Monkey Business is a smorgasbord of differing literary styles and taste, guaranteeing that wherever the discerning reader dips in she’ll be struck by a quirky writer she’s not previously familiar with. Both familiar and foreign recasting of American motifs abound. For example, “Monsters,” by Hideo Furuwaka, might at first seem to have the feel of high-brow Stephen King, but in the end turns out to be far more disturbing in the manner by which it achieves its vanishing implications of horror—if that is the appropriate term for such mundane circumstances in which its suspense is detailed. Or the close American Gothic parallels of Y?ko Ogawa’s “The Tale of the House of Psychics” with its babbling spinster would-be novelist who lives in the squalor of an abandoned neighborhood building complete with the gloomy overgrown front garden and pack of prying neighborhood kids at play, one of whom grows up to become the working editor who narrates the tale.

Nonetheless a strong spirit intrinsic to the Japanese experience does prevail. The vignettes in “People from my Neighborhood” by Hiromi Kawakami give a concise coming of age snapshot of the burgeoning caldron of East-meets-West Japanese industrialization during the latter end of the last century. A good deal of the work responds and enlarges in kind upon Hideo Furukawa’s belief that “the sense of loss, of reality having been somehow diminished, arrived in Japan first.” As Haruki Murakami defines it (referencing the events in NYC on Sept. 11, 2001), “when I talk to Americans today I feel they’re experiencing a certain sense of loss, a fear that the ground beneath their feet is no longer solid, that the world they live in is not the real world at all. That reality itself may have been lost.” As Identity is increasingly realized in an ever growing global context, Monkey Business serves as an integral take on how further possibilities of understanding in the world might be realized.
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