Sunday 20 March 2022

Book Review: The Monkey and the Monk by Anthony C. Yu (Classics)

Title: The Monkey and the Monk
Author: Anthony C. Yu
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classics
Source: Xmas Gift

Anthony C. Yu’s celebrated translation of The Journey to the West reinvigorated one of Chinese literature’s most beloved classics for English-speaking audiences when it first appeared thirty years ago. Yu’s abridgment of his four-volume translation, The Monkey and the Monk, finally distills the epic novel’s most exciting and meaningful episodes without taking anything away from their true spirit. 

These fantastic episodes recount the adventures of Xuanzang, a seventh-century monk who became one of China’s most illustrious religious heroes after traveling for sixteen years in search of Buddhist scriptures. Powerfully combining religious allegory with humor, fantasy, and satire, accounts of Xuanzang’s journey were passed down for a millennium before culminating in the sixteenth century with
The Journey to the West. Now, readers of The Monkey and the Monk can experience the full force of his lengthy quest as he travels to India with four animal disciples, most significant among them a guardian-monkey known as “the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven.” Moreover, in its newly streamlined form, this acclaimed translation of a seminal work of world literature is sure to attract an entirely new following of students and fans.


I actually came to read this book through the K-drama A Korean Odyssey, which was very loosely based upon it. Overall, I would say it presents an interesting allegory in a fantasy setting, with plenty of humour along the way. On the whole, this abridgement moved at a decent pace, with only a few moments that dragged; however, I'm not sure how I'd feel about reading the full four volumes. I think you'd have to be very dedicated for that! But there is still plenty to enjoy in this abridged version, and I particularly liked coming across moments in which I could see where the TV series had borrowed ideas. I don't know Chinese to compare, but the translation read smoothly, and there were notes here and there to explain difficult-to-translate concepts. This was my first time reading a Chinese classic, and on the strength of this piece, I would read more in the future. It gets four stars from me.

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