No. 35: Sequoia Nagamatsu
Q. How do you see names, and giving names to things, working in your story, considering most of the things given formal names are actually dead, or not yet living?
Names make the dead, the formless tangible. In naming the seeds, Momotaro’s wife delayed the finality of losing her children while also creating a space for them to exist. On the shelves in their home, the seeds waited in a kind of purgatory. And as long as they were there, Momotaro’s wife would always linger between a moment of being pregnant, when the possibility of life was very real, to a moment of loss. Interestingly, after the rebirth of the children, Momotaro and his wife, unless they kept track of which seeds were planted where, would have no way of knowing the pre-peach name of a child, effectively allowing the couple to start over.
Q. I adore the idea of what fairy-tale characters do in “retirement”—if not giving another task at the end of your story, what might Momotaro do with his time?
Well, I imagine that Momotaro would be quite busy with fatherhood at first. And I like the idea of Momotaro telling stories to his children about his adventures, perhaps teaching them about the dangers of the world. Would his children follow in their father’s footsteps? Would his children betray him in someway, consorting with demons? As an older man, would Momotaro fight to stay relevant in a changing Japan, telling his stories to anybody who would hear them? I imagine Momotaro spending his golden years traveling to what is left of Old Japan, seeking out old friends and even enemies to relive his youth. All of Japan’s iconic folk heroes and creatures in one place. Now that’s a reunion I’d like to attend.
Q. Your story is a continuation of a well-known Japanese tale, but it also ends on a cliff-hanger, if you will. What would you think if someone else continued your continuation?
I would absolutely love that. I’m a firm believer that our old tales should be retold, fractured, and continued. And some of our oldest tales really set the stage for our most enduring tropes and archetypes. Re-imagined tales offer opportunity to add flesh to beloved characters and conceive of them as fantastical (and familiar) guides in navigating the complexities of our own world. In the essay Ecstasy of Influence, Jonathan Lethem talks about the idea of art being part of a “gift economy” where borrowing/riffing on the ideas of others is at the heart of creativity. And I couldn’t think of a greater gift than to discover someone using The Peach Boy as a springboard to create a new life for Momotaro.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans.
Sequoia Nagamatsu’s story “The Peach Boy” appeared in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “The Peach Boy”
And so came the day when Momotaro, whose parents found him inside of a peach, grew tired of adventures and settled down with a samurai’s daughter. For years they found happiness, planting peach trees on their land, telling stories to each other––her tales of warriors on horseback wearing masks of monsters, his tales of demons, of fellowships forged with talking bees, millstones, crabs, and cow dung. But while their lives were seemingly full, the samurai’s daughter felt an emptiness in the house. And so every year they tried, in vain, to have a child. Each birth came too early, the samurai’s daughter producing a peach pit with the face of a crying boy or girl. She placed the pits on shelves alongside name cards––Misora, Eiko, Manabu, Ayu, Sachiko, Matsue, Hirano, Yoshi, Suzume, and prayed for their spirits every night. More and more shelves were built but with every pit added to the wall, the samurai’s daughter’s melancholy grew deeper, until, at six months in again, she heard a heavy plop in the outhouse and made a decision to stop collecting her pits entirely.
One day, Momotaro, while clearing the outhouse, discovered that a peach tree had begun to grow. He took the sapling, cleaned it off, and planted it in front of their house. And seeing how the pits on the shelves only saddened his wife, he asked her if he could try planting those as well. “Let them grow,” he said. “Let them live.” She hesitantly agreed, so long as he didn’t take them all at once. So, one-by-one he planted peach trees as gifts, outside the homes of his neighbors.
Rain storms came and went, the laughter of children in the summer had come and gone until those children weren’t children at all.