on 5 February 2017
Journey to the West is definitely the biggest story that I've read so far, and one that I enjoyed over the course of just over a month (starting at Christmas day and finishing on the 5th February), but can I recommend it? It's a bit hard to critique literature that is, A: over 400 years old, and B: intended for an Eastern Chinese audience that was centered around the times of religious change in China.
The story has huge links to Chinese mythology, Buddhism and Tang/Ming dynastic era influences, with other central points that are tied to becoming pure, and cooperation to achieve goals.
The story was surprisingly easy to read in my opinion. It does help to have a little bit of background to some of the influences, and whilst the introduction does give some context, you might find yourself doing some extra research as you go along to get a better understanding of certain principles, characters or terminology to clear up any confusion.
Reading it from the perspective of the modern age might be a hurdle to jump over, but if you're into the respective themes or genre, then I'd would recommend that you give it a read. The only issue might be that it's not an exceptionally long story, which might take up a lot of your time - especially if you're a slow reader that likes to take in words or information, then you might be reading Journey to the West for a while. The narrative style is kinda divided between narration and interaction with the characters, but there are also a plethora of descriptive section which usually are presented in poem form, which are harder to take in because of the style of the lexical items (typically you don't skim-read poetry), so this could break the pace at which you read quite a bit. It took me just over a month, but that was with me consistently taking time out of my schedule to read a few chapters every day. Each one is approximately 20+ pages, with there being a cumulative 100 in total. Also, the numbers of pages on Amazon is about 300 pages or so off: there's actually about 2100 pages in total. There are a few illustrations here and there too, which are a nice edition, but you're still reading a hefty amount of story. The story itself is fascinating in my opinion, and I did enjoy reading it, but the major bulk of the story becomes quite routine beyond chapter 13. The first 7 chapters tell the origins and tales of one of the main characters: Sun Wukong (Monkey), then in chapter 8-12, it focuses on the central protagonist: Sanzang, and his backstory. But from then onwards, Sanzang and Monkey make their journey to the west, whilst basically coming across the same sort of obstacles. Soon after Sanzang leaves his home of Chang'an, he is ordered to go to the west to fetch Buddhist scriptures from India, to bring them back to so that the Tang Emperor and his subjects can reach Dharma. Not long in, you also meet and are accompanied by the other main characters: Pig and Friar Sand, but from then on, the challenges are basically the same. The journey is very long, and they reach various mountain ranges, rural areas or monasteries, where they get a place to stay for the night, but there are always complications which take one of the following Three general rules of thumb:
Sanzang gets kidnapped by demons, and his three disciples have to save him.
Sanzang becomes a prisoner of a lustful female demon, and the three disciples have to get him out of the predicament to preserve his purity.
Or Sanzang feels obliged to help with the troubles of local town /city that he's arrived in.
This is an overgeneralisation, and there are varying differences between each ordeal, but you do get to the point where it feels like everything is just "samey": Sanzang is vulnerable and needs his disciples to protect him, or get intervention from various deities that exist in this narrative.
Despite it's repetitive feeling at points, it is an interesting story, and worth reading in my opinion, but you need patience, dedication and persistence to finish Journey to the West in my opinion: this isn't just casual reading. Finishing it though does feel like a personal accomplishment though. :)
But yeah, it does feel like it kinda overstays its welcome. Other translations, such as the more commonly known "Monkey" are shorter, condensed down and more concise, but if you want to the true authentic feeling, read this edition (Especially since it's very hard to find the full original text translated into English). I'm not sure how it compares to the original in the original language, but from the perspective of an English person, I'd say that you should make your own decision as to whether you want to bother reading it.
The actual print (in paperback at least) is split into 4 seperate volumes, with relatively thin pages, with dimensions of 7 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide, and around 1 inch thick for each novel. Thankfully you don't have to hold the entire novel whilst reading all at once. However, I did find my editions had a few creases in the the covers, but these were very small and not really that big a deal. There are also a few typos and spelling errors every so often. Whilst they are few and far between, they do exist, but do not ruin the reading experience, as you can usually infer what was meant to be said. Considering that most editions have volumes sold a individually, at a relatively high price, this edition is actually a really good price to pay for.
Overall, Journey to the West is a good read, but only really worth doing or accomplishable if you have the devotion or interest to see it through to the end. Again, I did personally enjoy reading it, but I can see why some people might get bored with it. I'll let you decide whether you want to get it or not. I give this Amazon product 4 stars. If you can get into it, this novel will fascinate you until the very end. If you can't get into it, then you'll never finish it and you'll have wasted your money.