Friday, 17 September 2010

Foreign Language Friday: Monkey

Dear Blog,
Foreign Language Friday again.  The last one for a few weeks, I think, so I have time to read and/or gather more awesome novels in translation.  Last night I realised that if I do it every week then I might run out of books.  Eeek! 
Worry not.  It shall return in a while.  And sorry this entry's so short.

Name: Monkey (originally published as Xī Yóu Jì, Journey to the West)
Written by: Wu Cheng'en
First published in: Chinese.  Chinese script, I mean.
Translated by: Arthur Waley
Summary (from Goodreads): Probably the most popular book in the history of the Far East, this classic combination of picaresque novel and folk epic mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking tale. It is the story of the rougish Monkey and his encounters with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies. This translation, by the distinguished scholar Arthur Waley, is the first accurate English version; it makes available to the Western reader a faithful reproduction of the spirit and meaning of the original.

Review: I actually found this on the manga shelf in the teenage section of my local library. I guess because the edition I read (pictured) looks rather oriental and kung fu-ish.
When my father saw I'd borrowed this from the library he quite interested that this was the novel that the Japanese TV programme of the same name had been based on, then proceeded to ramble about how he used to watch it.   But, yes, this is that book.

The translation is excellent. Seriously, I can't praise it highly enough.  It must be pretty tricky to translate such an epic novel from 16th-century Chinese, but Arthur Waley does it excellently. He abridges it in a different style from previous editions/translations, instead omitting whole irrelevant chapters as opposed to cutting out chunks of the dialogue.  And with over 100 chapters in the original work, I guess it needs it. 
It'd be interesting to read the original version to compare, I think.  If I ever learn Mandarin and/or to read Chinese, that is.  Until then, I'll just presume that it must have been hard work, and Waley did it well. 

It's pretty hard to believe that this is an abridged version.  At over 350 pages, with really really small  text, Monkey takes work. It's the sort of book where you need to be reading another novel at the same time that doesn't consume so much time or take so much effort.
And, still, despite the abridgement, in some parts it's painfully slow.  Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy don't actually set out on their quest until a good 120 pages in or so, the first 90 just telling the story of how Monkey got all his powers, was imprisoned under the mountain and so on.  Lots of the book is made up of individual episodes and, in the case of lots of them, you wouldn't miss much if you had skipped it.  I did at one point try and skip forward a few chapters, but then was consumed by guilt and went back and read them (I can never skip parts of books or I feel like I'm cheating). 

Despite the epic length, it's an interesting read and much more light-hearted than I thought it would be.  It's full of jokes, puns, kick-ass fantasy fight scenes of the sort I've not read in ages, wit, and such.  It's also quite satirical, with heaven and hell being governed by a similar method to the (then) Chinese court. It seems both quite religious without having huge elements of religion in it, if that makes any sense. 

Monkey is, as the title suggests, the star of the show.  He's one of those characters you watch rather than feel for, but entertaining nonetheless in his arrogance and the fact that he never seems to really learn from all the a
However.  Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka got on my nerves a little.  Pigsy and Sandy both seemed very two-dimensional, and Tripitaka instead of being the hero seemed a little weak and easy to give up.   I wanted to shake him now and  again and exclaim, "come on, Tripitaka!   You can do it!  Don't leave it all to your primate friend!"  The series of monks and courtiers were slightly confusing, especially as some of them only  came into the story once or twice and yet still had their own stories to tell.  Which makes things pretty confusing in places.

So, well, overall I'm not sure.  It was certainly hard work, but there were moments of amusingness that made it worth it, sort of. 

In Three Words: entertaining, insightful,  loooooong.
Reccomended for:   People with time on their hands.
Rating: 2.5  Take it or leave it.  If you leave it, oh well, but if you take it and persevere, you'll be rewarded.

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