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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 10 July 2003
I read this after having read the excellent San Guo Yan Yi (The Three Kingdoms/Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which I would highly recommend) and, having known a bit about Chinese culture, language and literature I went into it knowing what to expect and was delighted that it had surpassed my expectations.
Most often referred to as Xi You Ji or, Journey to the West, it is difficult to appreciate why the author chose to call it "Monkey". While the character of Monkey does occupy much of the first part of the book and remains the strongest and, I'm guessing, most people's favourite character throughout, he is still only part of the entourage of characters who face the Journey. Still, what's in a title?
This book is replete with humour, both obvious and subtle. It would help if you had a certain understanding of Chinese History and culture in your reading of this book to understand the many references contained within. However, even if you don't know a jot about anything to do with China, you will still find this book immensely enjoyable and full of quotable wisdoms.
It details first the story of the birth of monkey and his fate and then the birth of "Tripitaka" and then begins the Journey to the West. It might often appear a bit disjointed, leaping around topics. For example, you begin with the story of Monkey, and are then thrown into a (seemingly) completely unrelated topic. But the way Wu Cheng'An has worked all these plots into a coherent story is truly brilliant. Instead of finding it disjointed, I found the the jumps kept the book very exciting. While there are certain parts of the plot which I assume are composed according to the epic style of the time (for example, all the battles take place in rounds, or bouts, and seem to follow a standardised format of engage and retreat/chase), these don't detract anything from the novel to one who is used to epic literature (for example, the battles in the Iliad followed a pattern).
In following the path of Tripitaka, Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy you invariably pick your favourite for each has their own individual personalities and stock epithets. Pigsy is fat and glutenous and fights with a rake (!) and perhaps is one of the funniest charicatures in the book. Monkey is a mischief maker, both loveable and naughty with fabulous powers. Sandy... doesn't really do much. Tripitaka is hilarious simply because he is portrayed as the hero of this book but spends most of his time being rescued by his disciples! It truly is riotous.
Thus, even if you fail to understand the relationships of the San Jiao (Three teachings of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism)or the nature of the bureaucracy (the way heaven mimics earth), you will still find this one of the funniest reads of your life.
(The other three classics of Chinese literature are The Three Kingdoms, The Story of the Stone/Dream of the Red Chamber and The Outlaws of the Marsh and I highly recommend all of them)
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on 11 March 2003
I think I'm the exception among the reviewers here in that I didn't come to this book through the TV series - I have heard of it, but I've never seen it (although I do intend to try to find it now...).
This translation covers only sections of the Monkey/Journey to the West saga, but what there is of it conveys well the flavour of the tale without outstaying its welcome. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the priest Tripitaka and his disciples (including Monkey), who have been charged to journey to the West and return with Buddhist scriptures for the enlightenment of China.
The story can, at times, be distinctly difficult to get your head around; superficially at least, it's little more than a succession of episodes involving bizarre monsters being defeated with elaborate magical powers. There is, however, plenty of humour - generally farcical in nature, although occasionally quite dry - and the bickering of the main characters is frequently entertaining. The bureaucratic nature of heaven, in which spirits and deities are assigned strictly hierarchical posts - with salaries! - is amusing regardless of how much you know of Chinese history and society.
However, many of the Buddhist and Taoist elements may be confusing to readers unfamiliar with the basic concepts. Some of the episodes rely quite heavily on outcomes grounded in, say, the workings of karma or the achievement of enlightenment - although most do conclude with Monkey and friends beating up the monsters in question, frequently with the spiritual aid of Kuan-yin and other divinities. But I do suspect that there are allusions and layers I'm missing...
To paraphrase the end-of-chapter refrain, if you want to know whether Monkey and his companions succeed on their quest, you'll have to read the book!
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on 3 September 2017
Truly a wonderful book with humour (albeit rather simplistic) and magic through out. At times the tale itself can ramble, but the hijinks of Monkey, Sandy, Pigsy and Tripitaka keep you hooked. There were a few chapters that to me were nothing more than filler, and could have been cut.

Overall though if you have an interest in Asian fiction and light hearted romps through distant kingdoms this is for you!
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on 4 July 2017
A fine Classic, 10/10.
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on 3 May 2017
Bought for my son, he thought it was great!
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on 2 January 2016
A fantastic read, full of adventure, humour and a great taste of Chinese culture!
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on 11 June 2017
Fascinating tale I just couldn't put down!
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on 17 August 2017
A classic from my childhood. Now I can find out how it ends.
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on 11 July 2016
got bored halfway because Monkey is basically a little s***
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on 23 March 2017
most unusual don't know what to think
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