August 25, 2005

Book Review: Saru no Koshikake (Monkey Circus)

Saru no Koshikake
猴子馬戲團 (Monkey Circus)
By: Momoko Sakura
ISBN: 9571012394

If you look for medical advice from a book of humorous essays by comic artists, then this is the book for you. The book wastes no time in getting to the advice. The book jacket dispenses with the traditional synopsis or introduction and instead gives a home remedy for hemorrhoids. One only needs to tear up two or three leaves of a chameleon plant (蕺), then stuff them in the anus! (塞到肛門內即可) If that piques your interest, then get ready for Sakura’s second piece of medical wisdom: drinking your urine is good for what ails you.

In the first essay, on curing hemorrhoids, Sakura declares “I’ve given up caring how spicy the food I eat is, how thick my stools are; As long as I have the chameleon plant cure, my anus is in paradise.” One of the essays tells about a trip to Taiwan that she made with her husband and the employees at her small company. She has little opportunity to experience Taiwan, other than chewing binlang, because after first encountering a typhoon, she then gets a case of the runs. In other essay she writes about the problem of having to describe a toilet plunger. Apparently, Japanese is like Chinese in that there is not a commonly used word for a plunger (also called a plumber’s helper), so you have to call it “that thing for unclogging the toilet.”

Essays about her childhood and as a young adult are also included. The best of these is about a classmate from elementary school. Sakura admired this boy, who had a single facial expression for all occasions. She saw him looking at an encyclopedia entry for Brazil, repeating the word “Brazil” to himself.
I asked “Do you like Brazil?” “Brazil” he answered without changing his
expression. That’s right--Brazil is Brazil. It’s not a question of liking or
disliking it. I closed my book and reflected on why I had asked such a foolish
In one essay she describes her visit to her publisher in Tokyo after her comic was accepted. Being from a community where everyone drinks tea, she does not understand when she is asked what she would like to drink. “Something to drink? You mean tea, right?” she responds. “Um, you could drink orange juice, or something like that…” She then recalls how she has heard people in television dramas asking what one would like to drink.

The worst of these essays are what would nowadays qualify as blog entries. In one essay, Sakura muses that she was probably Japanese in her past life. Her essay about her trip to India is less interesting than your average travelogue blog, (and a blog would include pictures). But at their best, these essays are a fun look at life, a book that is funny without being caustic, like a lot of current humor.

One of the great things about learning a language is that you get access not only to another culture but also to other neighboring languages and cultures. For example, if you are proficient in Vietnamese, then a great many Chinese martial arts novels, translated into Vietnamese, are yours for the taking. If you learn Chinese, then you have access to this collection of essays, which although inconsequential, was liked well enough to sell over one million copies for three consecutive years.

* * *
(Side rant: And you do not have to be particularly proficient in Chinese to read a translation like this. Whereas most English readers only read translations written by literary scholars, mass-market books like this are not translated with such care. You will not find any biographical information about the translator of this book, and even the name appears to be a pen name (銀花). This is probably because there is little impressive information to give about the translator; he or she may hold only a minor in Japanese.)

I have a review of another book by Sakura Momoko, Ikoiri Musume, here.


  • Hey there! thanks for the review. I was recommended to read Momoko Sakura's comics by many friends. Do you have any idea where I can find some on line!
    Thanks ^.^

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 26, 2011 10:04 PM  

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