Yoruba literature lovers can now read “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” by celebrated Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Titled “Ìjẹ́wọ́ Ìnàkí Shìnágawà Kan,” the Yoruba version of the story was translated by Nigerian linguist Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún and published in Olongo Africa on June 26, with a cover art by Yemisi Aribisala.
Murakami’s short story was first published in The New Yorker in 2020. A sequel to his 2006 story “A Shinagawa Monkey,” the beautifully allegorical tale confronts notions of loneliness and longing through the eyes of a talking monkey. The story equally explores themes of envy, suicide and therapy.
This translation is yet another milestone for the brilliantly ambitious Túbọ̀sún who earned the 2019 Miles Morland Scholarship in nonfiction. Currently based in Lagos, his many translation projects include the Yoruba translations of the Caine Prize-winning story “Grace Jones” by Irenosen Okojie, Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Shivering,” and the poetry collection Childhood by the American philosopher and professor Emily R. Grosholz.
Túbọ̀sún has been translating literary texts from English to Yoruba for almost 20 years, during which he has translated works by the likes of Wole Soyinka and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. He explains, in a Whatsapp note to us, that his interest in African language translation was sparked by the realization that the literary culture around translations was centered on European languages: “I found that almost all grants you can find only reward translations from African languages — in essence rewarding the reader in English or the other hegemonic languages more than it rewards the source languages.”
Túbọ̀sún’s translation of “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” is the first time in history that Murakami’s work, which has been translated into a dozen languages, is available in an African language. But this translation does more than simply expand Murakami’s readership. It also enriches Yoruba language. As Túbọ̀sún notes: “Translation into Yorùbá enriches Yorùbá readers, enriches the Yorùbá language, and provides a new way for me to refine my competence in my own language, which I find has suffered some attrition over the years of non-literary use.”
With his expanding list of Yoruba translations, Túbọ̀sún joins a growing community of writers following Ngũgĩ’s lead and his decades-long advocacy for centering African languages in the literary space. Kudos to Túbọ̀sún!