- Paperback: 440 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Revised edition (December 20, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226971376
- ISBN-13: 978-0226971377
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 99 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Journey to the West, Revised Edition, Volume 3 Paperback – December 20, 2012
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About the Author
Anthony C. Yu is the Carl Darling Buck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Humanities and Professor, The Divinity School, Departments of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, English Language and Literature, Comparative Literature, and the Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago.
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Looking through the translations, it's obvious that both are worthy undertakings by two enthusiatic contemporary Sinologists. Anthony Yu, though not a native English speaker, is professor of East Asian studies at the Chicago University, an expert in his field, and an ethnic Chinese. Brenner is a long-time Sino translator who has rendered his fair share of Chinese classics into English. So how did these two translations fare compared with each other?
Brenner is a no-nonsensical and very sensible translator of the Wu Cheng'en's book. While he doesn't take great liberties with the text, when required, he demonstrates lots of felicities in reframing Chinese ideas and philosophies into English. Take the beginning for instance, a difficult passage which involves understanding of Chinese arithmetics and metaphysics. Here is Brenner's version:
"In the arithmetic of the universe, 129,600 years make one cycle. Each cycle can be divided into twelve phases: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII. VIII, IX, X, XI and XII, the twelve branches. Each phase lasts 10,800 years.
"Now within a single day, the positive begins at the time I; at II the cock crows; at III it is not quite light; at IV the sun rises; V is after breakfast; and at VI one does business. VII is when the sun reaches noon; at VIII it is slipping towards the west; IX is late afternoon; the sun sets at X; XI is dusk; and at XII people settle down for the night."
This is elegant as is readable and comprehensible to an English audience. Although Brenner forgoes the nitty-gritties of exact transliteration, he did not excise anything of note, and got the gist of the passage right. One could imagine this is how the author would have composed in English.
Brenner's translation is consistently fine and accurate. His language is on the whole simple and easily understood as long you have a high school degree. Where Brenner is more limited, as compared to Arthur Waley's classic abridged "Monkey", is in recreating the full range of tones and satiric emotions of the original. "Journey to the West" is a satirical, high-spirited adventure story; Brenner is idiomatic and readable, but he can occasionally sacrifice some of the original's comic mischievousness. Here Waley is incomparable; though he may sound a little arch, one has no doubt Waley is at one with Wu Cheng'en's spirit. Brenner, on the other hand, can at times sound a little too matter-of-factly. There are moments where you will chuckle in delight reading Waley, but might not do so with Brenner.
Now to Anthony Yu's version. Made in the 1980s, it, too, is a highly commendable piece of work. The first thing one notices about it is its extreme faithfulness to the text - even more so than Brenner's. At times, it even strikes one as being slavish. One must praise his version for being so strictly straightforward, though at times this literalmindedness makes some word choices incomprehensible to English readers. Take his constant rendition of "Wood Mother" for instance, a term which has no meaning whatsoever in English, or "eating rice" for "taking a meal". This is a version especially good if you know your Chinese and would like a crib to read the original with. While maybe not as idiomatic as Brenner, Yu is even more academic and scholarly in that he attempts to translate every character of the language. Faithfulness to the letter of the text takes foremost priority, sometimes over readibility. The success rate is varying, but the translation is on the whole an admirable one.
Comparing the two, both Yu and Brenner can be recommended. Yu would be first choice if fidelity to the text is your priority. If you prefer your English to be more idiomatic and the story to flow better, Brenner should be considered. The two run pretty close and neither is yards ahead of the other. But Waley's translation is still a marvellous read, and even if it is highly abridged, it should under no circumstances be forgotten.
To be more specific - this is an epic full of the most diverse adventures, in the style of the glorious Ancient-Greek Iliad, Odyssey and the Tasks of Hercules.
However, strangely enough, this can also be a written description of a computer game, full of battles against ferocious dragons, monsters and corrupted leaders - religious or civil - passing from level to level, till the happy end. The heroes also carry all kinds of special weapons and possess supernatural powers - belonging to a culture that has probably inspired also those very computer games.
These heroes' purpose is double - fighting against evil creatures, and refining their own selves in order to reach heavenly immortality. They are three,- symbolizing the three parts of each body. The witty Monkey represents the intelligent resourceful brain. The pious monk Sanzang is the compassionate heart, and Pig - the village-fool - is the greedy stomach, providing the many humorous episodes. In short - never a dull moment. By the way, the Monkey also becomes a monk, and the unintentional pun Monkey-monk provides us with hilarious instants...
The first chapters describe how Monkey was born from the primordial union between Heaven and Earth from a stone-egg, and how he defied the heavenly rulers, wrecking havoc in their lofty palaces, ruining their peach-feast, stealing the pills of immortality, winning by ruse a wondrous weapon, subduing ferocious dragons as well as many troops of heavenly soldiers, being cooked in a furnace just to win all-seeing golden pupils, erasing his name from the records of the underworld, thus making himself immortal - and more such brave and indeed incredible feats - only to be subdued, finally, by the great Buddha himself. His only way to release himself from his eternal imprisonment is - to help the pious monk Sanzang, whose life-story is most touching, make the 36,000-miles-journey to the west to fetch the scriptures for the impious easterners. On the way they're surprised by seemingly impossible tasks, such as crossing huge seas or lofty ridges, and in addition they meet all kinds of unimaginable powerful fiends, which they must fight according to the different circumstances. Each battle is described in a short free poem, just as the breathtaking views of the mountains, brooks, rivers, storms, flowers and birds are described lyrically.
Each of the many adventures - about 60, at least - is self-contained, and so, even if the reading stretches over several months - nothing's lost.
The reading is easy and pleasant, and mostly - encouraging - since each battle symbolizes our own daily hardships, and so each victory is ours too!!..
Since the book concentrates mostly on the versatile ever-lasting fight between Good and Evil, with very little romance, for example, it could be read by any child, just like fairy-stories. And so, whoever is looking for a present for a youngster, even 10 years old, or whoever is willing to teach a computer-addicted boy or a teenager to dedicate some time to simple reading - this is the book for the task!!
Plus, whoever is willing to enjoy a long journey from China to India, with everything it has to offer - sceneries, people, trades, spirituality, vices, different habits of many countries - at least twelve are mentioned - and also visit many levels of heaven and even the underworld on the way - and get out of it intact - all this without leaving the comfortable home and even bed - especially during long cold nights - just step out and invest in buying this book - it's simply indispensable!!!
A personal confession - I happened to be born in the Year of the Monkey according to the Chinese astrology, and on the day of the Monkey according to the Mexican astrology - so I'm a double Monkey, and I'd detested it!!! Till I've completed the reading of this book. Now I can be proud of myself, just for having such a representative in one of the most fascinating specimens of the world literature - the most charming Monkey you'll ever meet!!! :-)