Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Night-time Spider Monkey

[The eponymous story at the heart of Murakami's collection of ultra short stories, Night of the Spider Monkey (to give an alternative translation of the title). You can see my other Murakami translations here, mostly from the same collection.]

It's two o'clock in the middle of the night, I am facing my desk, working on a story, when a spider monkey has somehow broken open the window and entered.

"Woah! Who are you?" I asked.

"Woah! Who are you?" The spider monkey said.

"Don't copy me," I said.

"Don't copy me," the spider monkey said.

"Doon't copee mee," I said, also copying.

"Doon't copee mee," said the spider monkey in italics.

Man, I thought, this is going to become a problem. If I get caught by this night-time spider monkey mimicry maniac, I'll never see the end of it. At some point I've got to throw this bastard out. There's some work I have to do by morning, no matter what. I can't just let this continue until God-knows-when.

"Heppo kurakura shiman ga totemu ya, kuri ni kamasu to kimi wa koru, pocopoco," I quickly said.

"Heppo kurakura shiman ga totemu ya, kuri ni kamasu to kimi wa koru, pocopoco," the spider monkey said.

Even spoken like that, because I had spoken at random, I couldn't judge whether the spider monkey was right or not. Bit of a waste of time.

"Yoseyona," I said.

"Yoseyona," the spider monkey said.

"Wrong! I wasn't speaking in italics."

"Wrong! I wasn't speaking in italiques."

"Is that the right spelling?"

"Is that the write spelling?"

I let out a sigh. Whatever I said, it had no influence over the spider monkey. Without speaking any further, I decided to continue my work in silence. But whenever I pressed a key into my word processor, the spider monkey silently pressed the copy key. Tap. But whenever I pressed a key into my word processor, the spider monkey silently pressed the copy key. Tap. Yoseyona. Yoseyona.

[This particular story presents a few interesting problems for the translator. Where I used italics as opposed to a normal font ("Doon't copee mee,") in the original Japanese Murakami uses katakana and hiragana ("マネヲスルルンジャナイ"). Also, where I make the spider monkey give the wrong spellings, Murakami made the spider monkey talk using different kanji. (Or maybe it was the spider monkey in the driving seat?) The last couplet of conversation is, I feel, difficult to translate. In the original Murakami says, 「字が違ってるじゃないか」 which translates roughly to "Aren't the characters different?" And in reply the spider monkey changes the first kanji, , to which has the same pronunciation but instead of meaning "characters" means "time". So what the monkey says in response is, "Isn't the time different?" Which I think is a quite witty (if senseless) repost. To do the same thing in English, a language of far fewer homophones than Japanese, might well be impossible. As I said, it's difficult.

[On another note, the title, Yoru no Kumozaru, could be translated in a few ways. Until I had read the actual story, I always assumed it was "night of the spider monkey". However, in the story, the expression is used in such a way as to necessitate the translation, "night-time spider monkey". I'm not sure if I was just wrong before, but, well, in any case, it does work both ways, and both translations do come up if you google them...]


  1. Haha. Good job! I love this story in all its translation-puzzle-y ways. I think you handled it nicely.

    I think "Night of the Spidermonkey" is (more?) incorrect than "Night-time Spidermonkey" or "Spidermonkey in the Night". I remember being taught that in general, in a Nounのnounのnoun chain, the last noun is the main noun, and from there you work backwards. Therefore the focus of the title in this case is on "Spidermonkey" and not on "Night". However, I think "Night of the Spidermonkey" can work because in our English-speaking culture the phrase "Night of the..." is familiar (i.e. Night of the Living Dead) and therefore evocative and almost like an allusion. I was always partial to "Spidermonkeys in the Night," but that's a personal preference.

  2. That is a really good summation. "Spidermonkeys in the night" is a truly excellent title, especially as I am a Sinatra fan...

  3. How funny! I haven't read the original but I think your solution to the last 'couplet' works quite well...