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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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Title: Färden till Västern
English title: Journey to the West
Original title: 西游记
Author: 吳承恩 (Wu Cheng’en)
Translation: Göran Malmqvist
Year: 1590s

The Journey to the West is one of the four great Chinese classics. In our course focusing on East Asian culture and history, we had to choose one of these and after reading about the different works, I felt that The Journey to the West would suit me best. Not having read the others, I cannot say that I was correct, but I can say that I enjoyed this book immensely.

The story revolves around the Monkey King and his attempt to overthrow Heaven. However, he is thwarted in his attempt and his only way out is to serve as the guide and companion to the Buddhist monk Xuanzang on his journey to the west to retrieve the sacred Buddhist scriptures.

There are many things which appeal to me in The Journey to the West and I will cover the most important ones in this review. First and foremost, I find Chinese legends about might and magic entertaining. It is a world previously unknown to me and providing a door into this world, makes this book wonderful. Second, I enjoy the straightforward narration, without tedious details which is so cumbersome in much old literature. The story is focused, well designed and fast paced.

Third, the translation deserves a paragraph on its own. Göran Malmqvist is absolutely brilliant; I cannot describe in words how much I enjoy his prose. Comparing it to an English translation I have also tried, the Swedish translation is infinitely more enjoyable. His mastery of the Swedish language is entertaining in its own right and it can clearly be seen both in the translation of the short poetry-like parts of the book, but also in the prose.

It is difficult to assess what I think of the work itself, since it is impossible to separate it from my impression of the translation. However, the overall impression is one of lasting admiration and I will definitely try to get hold of the sequels and read them as well. Sadly, they have gone out of print, but I can probably borrow them from a friend.

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