Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 3

~edited by Motoyuki Shibata and Ted Goossen

The English-language, international edition of the Japanese literary journal Monkey Business made its debut in 2011. Issued annually, the third volume was released in 2013. Having read and enjoyed the first two volumes, I was looking forward to reading the most recent issue. Motoyuki Shibata, the founder of the original Monkey Business, serves as the journal's head editor along with Ted Goossen. In part, Monkey Business is intended to feature new and accomplished Japanese authors not well known outside of Japan. At the same time, it also includes innovative work from creators in other countries as well--in this particular issue the United States and Korea. The third volume of Monkey Business selects works from as early as 1924 while others are being published for the first time (in any language.) As usual, short stories, manga, poetry, essays, and excerpts from longer works can all be found within its pages.

Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan, Volume 3 includes twenty-one selections, one less than the previous volume, but the issue is slightly longer overall. Many of the creators have had their work published in the English-language edition of Monkey Business before, but nearly half are making their first appearance in the third volume. This includes works from two notable American novelists: two early stories from Paul Auster, "Invasions" and "The Hlumes," and Richard Powers' short story "Lodestar." Poet Laureate Charles Simic contributes his poem "At the Vacancy Sign" to the volume. "Crow's Eye View" is a collection of six unusual poems by Yi Sang, an important Korean writer. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's Korean-influenced short story "General Kim" is also included. Other authors making their Monkey Business debut include Gen'ichirō Takahashi  ("Dear Cindy"), Yuki Kurita ("Pako"), Taki Monma ("Splinters"), and Riichi Yokomitsu ("Time.")

Accompanying Yokomitsu's "Time," and returning to Monkey Business, is Toh EnJoe with his essay "Time in 'Time.'" Naoyuki Ii also provides an essay for this volume, "Living in Your Own Private Cubicle" which explores Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" as company-man fiction. This essay pairs nicely with the Brother and Sister Nishioka's manga adaptation of "The Metamorphosis." These paired contributions are some of my favorite works in Monkey Business. Other favorites include Keita Jin's short story "Exorcising Dreams" and Tomoka Shibasaki's short essay "The Glasses Thief," which open the volume. I am also rather fond of Barry Yourgrau's short story "The Mask." Actually, I find it difficult to name favorites since there are so many strong contributions in Monkey Business, Volume 3.  Once again, Goossen and Shibata and everyone else working on Monkey Business have put together a terrific collection.

The piece I struggle with the most is "Monkey Child--Human Child" by Masatsuga Ono. While I can appreciate it, personally I find the short story stylistically difficult to enjoy. But I did like all of the other pieces included in Monkey Business, Volume 3 from returning creators: Mina Ishikawa's collection of tanka poems "Urashima," "Neither Purity Nor Defilement Now" by Hideo Furukawa (who has had a short story in every issue of Monkey Business so far), Hiromi Kawakami's "The Dragon Palace," and Mieko Kawakami's "Dreams of Love, Etc." The volume closes with the third part of Sachiko Kishimoto's "The Forbidden Diary," which for me has always been one of the highlights of Monkey Business. Most of the works in Monkey Business, Volume 3 are not directly related although The Metamorphosis is a frequent touchstone and dreams and dreaming are recurring themes throughout the collection. I very much enjoyed this installment of Monkey Business and am already looking forward to the next year's offerings.

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