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Title: 西遊記
Translated title: The Journey to the West
Language: Chinese
Original: 吳承恩
Year: 2000

My first encounter with Journey to the West was in 2007, when I read it in a translation to first English and then again in Swedish for our course in East Asian culture and history. I enjoyed both the story and the translation immensely, so it felt only natural to choose Journey to the West as the first in a series of ten books presenting Chinese literary classics to young readers (I hesitate to specify age here, because I’m not sure).

Much of what I loved with the translation of the full version is lost here (such as the marvellous fighting scenes), but the main story and the characters are the same. My previous familiarity with the text also made it the ideal choice (I started reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, also in the same series, but I decided to stop because it’s too difficult). On the other hand, these 250 odd pages is an abbreviated form of the original story (which is much, much longer) and therefore gives a better sense of completion.

One big problem is that Journey to the West is rife with deus ex machina solutions to problems. Most of the time it’s the bodhisattva Guanyin who save the day. As is often the case with this kind of plot device, not only does it ruin particular story, but it also makes the reader think that there is never a serious problem, because whatever happens, the bodhisattva will come and save them.

What about the Chinese, then? Most of the time I have no problem understanding the general meaning in this book, but there are lots and lots of words I don’t know, so returning to this text again later for further studying (not just reading for quantity and pleasure) seems like a good idea. My estimate is that this book contains roughly 40 000 characters, which is one third more than the previous longest book I read in Chinese. I think the level is more difficult, but that I was greatly helped by the fact that I was already familiar with the story and its characters. All told, this is good reading and I will definitely return to it later in my pursuit of greater Chinese proficiency!

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