The Old Man & The Monkey: The story of a friendship
By George Polley
Paperback: 60 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 25, 2010)
This work of fiction opens with this paragraph: In a small park near one of the rivers in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, there is a bronze statue of an old man and a monkey seated side by side on a broad flat stone looking out over the river and the mountains. The monkey is bigger than ordinary snow monkeys; the top of his head reaches to the old man’s shoulder. Looking at the bags under his eyes, one can see that the monkey, like the man, is elderly. Affixed to the base of the statue is a bronze plaque that reads: ‘Genjiro and Yukitaro’. These two old friends sit and warm themselves in silence as the years and seasons pass.
The last sentence on the first page of the ebook gives a succinct introduction to the plot: Now is the time for me to tell their story and reveal for the first time how an improbable friendship like that between a man and a monkey happened, how it was good, and how it ended. This is a gentle start to a story that is both poignant and sweet. There are twists along the way and it is, therefore, a grave error to assume that the whole story has already been given away with that one sentence.
The sequence of events, from the very beginning, is so well-crafted that that ‘dream-like’ state of a story is sustained throughout. The economy of words used gives just enough information to make you understand and feel you’re with Yukitaro and Genjiro and, at the same time, leaves you wanting to know more.
If you were to wonder why George Polley is fond of the use of the terms ‘Old Man’ and ‘Old Woman’, he explains that, ‘[i]n Japanese folk tales, the Old Man, and Old Woman, are seen as symbolic of Wisdom. They often give wise advice and are revered for their wisdom. Monkeys are seen as mischievous and playful, and can be either evil and cunning or good and messengers of deities and the Buddha. …’
Here are samples of George Polley’s evocative use of language:
One by one, led by Yukitaro, the monkeys gathered around the villagers. Yukitaro went up to Harue’s tombstone and laid a flower in front of it, then turned and looked up into his old friend’s eyes with an expression of such sorrow and compassion that it brought tears to the eyes of everyone there.
That winter passed uneventfully, passing smoothly into spring, bringing with it a sprinkling of new babies and the promise of a good growing season.
The most notable example of humour takes place when the agitated mechanic, Tsuguo, mistakes Yukitaro’s generosity, in carrying a large mountain potato on his back, for a planned attack using a club on Genjiro and his wife.
The tale does not end with the death of the main characters. Indeed, there is a sense of ‘coming home’ when Junichiro (Genjiro’s grandson) finds what appears to be the remains of the monkey and informs his father. It is a hard-hearted man who is not touched when he reads, ‘… Junichiro and his father placed a small black headstone next to their headstone with this simple inscription: YUKITARO A friend’
What would have made this ebook perfect, however, would have been another round of proof-reading. A sentence in the last paragraph reads as follows: … It has taught me much about the possibilities of friendship and kindness and the bonds that exist between man and man and man and animal … [sic.]. That this sentence appears towards the end spoils the entire experience, somewhat. Still, this is not a major criticism for it is does not detract from the overall beauty of the story and can easily be rectified when the next edition is published.
The Old Man and the Monkey by George Polley is a lovely ebook and I look forward to the day when it will be published traditionally into book-form.
Reviewed by Aneeta Sundararaj
2 May 2009