In order to comprehend Griever: An American Monkey King in China, Western readers must consider Vizenor’s statement that tragedy is a Western invention. Native American tales emphasize the comic with little overlapping toward the tragic. With this in mind, one can consider Griever de Hocus (as in Hokus-Pokus) the sort of trickster protagonist Vizenor set out to create.
Griever, a Native American teacher, himself a consummate trickster, finds himself teaching at Tianjin University in China, just as Vizenor, also a consummate trickster, did for a while in 1983. Griever considers himself a reincarnation of the legendary Chinese Monkey King. He has arrived in China at the precise moment that a surge toward Western-style capitalism and consumerism has been loosed upon the country, transforming it from a communistic to a capitalistic state.
Having little allegiance either to Western values or the communist state, Griever, in a series of lively adventures, has a light-hearted affair with the daughter of a government official. The affair takes an ominous turn when the young woman becomes pregnant and is murdered.
Vizenor, well schooled in ancient literature, employs his broad background to shape his story. He draws on a classical Chinese story, “Journey to the West,” and a version of the story, “Monkey,” to structure his own tale. In “Monkey,” the title character is born when a huge boulder the gods have impregnated...
(The entire section is 451 words.)