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Chinese Classical Novel

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Title: 水滸傳
Translated title: Water Margin
Language: Chinese
Adaptation:
馮凌慧
Original: 施耐庵
Year: 2000

Water Margin is the second of the four great Chinese classical novels that I read in Windmill’s adaptation for children, the previous one being the Journey to the West. It tells the story of 108 outlaws and their various adventures during the  Song dynasty, but because of the extreme number of characters involved and the hurried plot, this book feels too much like the abridged version it really is.

My reading ability has improved a lot since I read the Journey to the West, which supposedly should be at the same level, but I still feel that this is almost too hard. This is strange, because sometimes I find this kind of reading harder than Chinese in textbooks I know for a fact should be more difficult. I think the main problem is that the story is a lot longer in the original form and the author who made the adaptation hasn’t done a very good job. For instance, the pages are virtually littered with names of people and places (a random check showed that three sentences contained over twenty names, which is far from uncommon). This makes it very hard to follow and remember who’s who.

Furthermore, the confusing style also doesn’t encourage me to read on, so i took almost a month to finish Water Margin meaning that I can hardly recall anything that happened at the beginning. I think I might read the other books in this adaptation series later, but only when I’m sure that I can handle this amount of names in Chinese more comfortably. I might even re-read this book, but let’s just say that I wasn’t very impressed the first time. If you’re looking for suitable books to improve your Chinese reading ability at the same time as picking up some knowledge about literature and culture (this was my goal), look elsewhere.

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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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