- Editor’s Note
Jungle Planet and Other New Stories is the latest in the Mänoa series of new writing from Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas.
Readers familiar with the series know that, since 1989, Mänoa has published established contemporary writers as well as emerging authors from the Pacific region—often in translations that make their work accessible to English-speaking readers for the first time. Mänoa's writers live in far-flung places, with widely differing cultural and linguistic backgrounds; but their stories have in common the power to draw us immediately and vividly into their characters' fortunes and fates, immersing us in the lives of others as if they were our own.
It has been said that with the increasing use of the Internet and high-speed travel, no place on Earth is remote anymore; however, remoteness is not merely a question of geographical proximity. We are still blind to everything we choose not to see, deaf to voices we refuse to hear, and uncomprehending of cultures we are incapable of embracing with our imaginations—no matter how nearby or far away they may be.
Three years after September 11, 2001, the Congressional Commission appointed to investigate that day's catastrophic events concluded that the principal cause of America's vulnerability to surprise attack was not a shortage of spy satellites or secret agents, but a failure of imagination. Properly understood, this finding is one of the report's sanest moments. Failure of imagination doesn't mean an inability to forsee horrible events; instead, imagination's singular strength is that it enables us to see the world through the eyes of others and, with new insight, to look back at ourselves. It's the failure of this kind of imagining that leads to misunderstandings, intolerance, and tragedy.
The 9/11 Commission's closing section, "Agenda of Opportunity," recommends that the United States should
support the basics, such as textbooks that translate more of the world's knowledge into local languages and libraries to house such materials [because] education about the outside world, or other cultures, is weak. [End Page vii] [Begin Page ix]
Unfortunately, the recommendation does not reflect on our own imaginative weaknesses, but instead focuses on the presumed shortcomings of other nations, concluding that foreigners will give up terrorism when they at last have access to translations of Western books. There is no paragraph in the commission report recommending translation in the other direction—although one of the most insulated and provincial nations on the planet is, without doubt, our own.
When Americans are thoughtfully exposed to international perspectives—particularly through art and literature, which have the power to place us vividly in the lives of individuals with other histories and alternative futures—we can perhaps become truly compassionate citizens of the world.
The works in Jungle Planet are each distinct in expressive techniques, voices, and styles, and this variety is one of the volume's delights. But it's worth noting how often the characters in the stories are challenged with understanding the emotions and reasoning of someone else—a brother, a lover, another tribe, another culture, another generation, an adversary, a spouse—and their success or failure at understanding themselves.
The title of the volume is taken from a story by Filipina writer Lakambini A. Sitoy. The little girl who is the main character lives in a world of seemingly irreconcilable forces. She is not allowed to go to school because it is too dangerous. She spends her long afternoons at home watching nature programs on television, absorbed by the beauty of graceful, endangered creatures in a green landscape that's fundamentally different from her surroundings. She gazes into the television screen at the image of a forest leaf "so clear and perfect that she could see the network of tiny veins along its spine," the leaf holding a drop of rain as exquisite as a pearl. Meanwhile, the rain outside her door is "saturated with filth," and her mother warns her that if she stands in it, she will "sizzle and dissolve into a lump of viscera." Yet, when the young girl crouches in her concrete-enclosed yard, peering into...