My thanks to Stonebridge Press and Netgalley for a review copy of this magazine.
Monkey is a literary magazine that showcases a wide range of Japanese writing translated into English. This, the second volume, edited by Ted Goossen, Motoyuki Shibata, and Meg Taylor focuses on ‘travel’.
What I loved about this was its very wide coverage on many levels. There are pieces from various genres from fantasy and science fiction to stories exploring more real-life themes like war and the bonds one forms, loss, small acts of compassion in daily life. These include both short fiction and excerpts from longer pieces. There is poetry including haiku, a short piece in the graphic-novel format, and some whimsical pieces. There is nonfiction from travel experiences (for instance a piece by Murakami on how going on his daily jog in different countries in Southern Europe was perceived by locals, to different authors reminiscing on their very first journeys—usually as children) to an exploration of what a journey really is to what travel became in pandemic times. The selections are also wide ranging in terms of the time they were written at, from pieces 30 or more years old to those written during the pandemic. And of course, also a number of authors including names both familiar to me like Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata and Meiko Kawakami to those new to me like Kikuko Tsumura, Hiromi Ito, and Jun’ichi Raima. There is something for every kind of reader to enjoy.
Travel is of course the theme that most of the pieces explore, whether it is journeys that some seem to have made without realising it (like a sea horse in human form in one story, who has lost connect with her home, and faces the lot of human women), or journeys due to circumstances (a woman and her children going to stay with her relative when war breaks), for pleasure, or as a pilgrimage (like a monk-prince travelling to Hindustan where Buddhism came from, or another man’s journey to a hot spring with a friend who is ill which turns out to stand in for a pilgrimage). In the nonfiction pieces too, there are reflections on what the travellers take away from these journeys (inspiration for their music, for instance) or what at the end of the day a journey really means. Yet, within this general theme of travel, various other aspects are explored from women’s position in society and problems they face at home or in their careers, to loss and loneliness, relationships (including with friends and family) and everyday dilemmas.
There are far too many pieces in this volume to write about individually but I will write of a few that a particularly enjoyed (broadly speaking I enjoyed the almost all the pieces). There is ‘Hell’ which explores a fun sort (well, at least for the reader) of hell for a glutton who has binged not on food but on books and crime thrillers on TV; ‘The Overcoat’, a heart-rending story in graphic-novel format of a coat looking for its lost owner; and Murakami’s account of jogging in different countries and how people reacted to him. I also loved the whimsical ‘Toad’ which was a deal of fun. The Dugong, an excerpt from a longer novel which follows a monk-prince on his journey to Hindustan in search of the roots of Buddhism was another piece of interest, and with the preceding illustration seemed a Japanese equivalent of the Journey to the West story. I also enjoyed getting an idea of a traditional Noh play. ‘The Trial’ was another quite thought-provoking piece on the more base instincts that might be closer to our surface than we think.
Another interesting feature is a section from the various translators of the volume discussing aspects they struggled with like words and phrases that have no English equivalents, or conveying subtle differences in homophonic names, or sentence endings.
The magazine also has some lovely artwork and illustrations between the different pieces—some were not final in the proof copy I have but I enjoyed them all the same.
While I have read and enjoyed some works of Japanese literature in the past, reading Monkey really gave me a look into the sheer range of writing that I have yet to explore, and left me with a list of authors and genres that I want to explore, as well as some books I’d like to read the rest of. In itself, Monkey is a great way to experience Japanese writing.
On a personal note, this one ended up taking me a great deal of time to read because I was reading this through Adobe Digital Editions, and between work deadlines and recurrent computer trouble (since October last year) that meant I kept losing my download, I almost thought I’d never get to read this, but am glad I finally did!