Book Review: Monkey [Part 1]

Monkey, also known as Journey to the West 西游记 or Sun Wukong 孫悟空, was written in 1592 by Wu Cheng’en. It is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Most Chinese people know the story because it became enormously popular through its television adaptations and plays. It influenced some of the earliest Chinese and Japanese animation. It also influenced many series like Dragon Ball. 

I’m reading an English translation by Arthur Waley. Waley only translated 30 chapters out of 100 episodes. However, it’s still one of the best English translations out there. He omitted most of the poetry. If you like poetry, hopefully you can find a version that includes it. There is poetry in this one, but very little of it. 

Page count: 350

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Synopsis: Monkey is “born” and becomes the Monkey King. He then trains under a Master and learns the secrets of immortality. Monkey then becomes very cocky in his abilities and creates havoc in Heaven. He challenges Buddha and loses terribly.

The above synopsis is only on the first part of the book. I wrote broadly because I didn’t want to spoil too much. The rest of the book will be on the pilgrimage to the West. Monkey travels with Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy to retrieve sacred scriptures and enlighten people about Buddhism. They face many adverse monsters and bodhisattvas along the journey.

I’m writing about the parts in isolation because there’s too much content to cover in the first quarter of the book. I divided the book in my own way: Part 1 ends when Monkey is punished by Buddha, before he begins the pilgrimage. Other people include Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy’s stories into the first part but I think those stories make up its own part.

There are lots of flaws, but it’s understandable because it was published 1592. What I perceive to be “flaws” are:

  • Fights are not detailed at all. For example, “x and y battled z many times and then y fled.” (I’m using my own words here, but that’s the gist of it.)
  • No character descriptions. I know what Kuan-yin looks like because I’ve seen television adaptations and because of my culture, but not everyone has the same experience as me.
  • The epic part of Monkey challenging Buddha is only told in a mere three pages.

I believe that television adaptations do a better job at these. However, nothing can compare to the book in my opinion, because so much happens in every page. No adaptation can possibly cover every single detail, whether it’s showing hundreds of thousands of men fighting against Monkey, or all the events that happen. Expect “ten years passed” thrown around every few pages.

One of the biggest reasons, in my opinion, why this story is so successful is because of Monkey. He is so clever, witty, confident and funny. Although he disturbs Heaven and so many characters, he’s so likable.

I recommend this classical novel to everyone.

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Book Review: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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Edogawa Rampo is known as the Father of Japanese mystery writing. If you are into mystery or horror, read this book! There are nine short stories in this book, and I’ll be talking about two stories that left lasting impressions on me.

1. The Human Chair

I was sucked in the story before I realized it. The writing is superlative! It’s about a person who stays inside a chair and his experiences of people sitting on him. It was weird but it was right up my alley. I was so fascinated, I could not stop reading.

Then I read Junji Ito’s retelling of the story! Junji Ito is a popular mangaka who specializes in horror manga. Junji retells The Human Chair with an alternate ending and I loved it. I recommend reading Rampo’s short story then reading Junji’s manga.

2. The Red Chamber

Have you ever thought about the perfect crime, and if such a thing is possible? This short story talks about the perfect crime, and it does have logic to it. Several examples are provided in this story. One line I loved from the story was, “Not any ordinary type of murder, I told myself, but murder which would baffle even Sherlock himself!”


It was interesting to see that Sherlock reference but it makes sense because Rampo was influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was also interesting to see Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Rampo’s writing, because Poe was a significant figure to Rampo’s work.

This shouldn’t be surprising, but many of these stories are about murder and a lot of the times they are told from the murderer’s perspective. I get that it’s not for everybody!

Book Review: No Longer Human

I’m branching out into book reviews now.

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Background information: This book was written by Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai. It’s the second best selling novel in Japan. Dazai committed suicide shortly after the book was published in 1948.

The book is divided into three notebooks: childhood, high school and university, and adulthood. Yozo never thought of himself as a human. The book is about his life, and a lot of miserable events happen to him. Yozo never truly felt happiness.

I became interested in No Longer Human because a lot of people said that it was “depressing” to read. However, I never felt sad while reading it. The book is in first person and I understand why Yozo did the things that he did. I don’t think Yozo did anything wrong and never felt frustrated with his actions either. Instead, the book made me feel very calm. I never felt angry or any other strong emotion. A friend of mine stopped reading the book halfway because it became depressing to read. I had a different experience because the writing compelled me to finish the book. Even though my heartstrings were not tugged or pulled, I was interested in reading the story to the end.  I was about to finish the book without having formed an emotional attachment to it until I read the last page of the third notebook.

I was shocked. There are three sentences on the last page, and I could not believe it. The last page of the third notebook changed my view of the book completely. The writing is phenomenal! I do recommend this book.

Fair warning: It may be triggering for some people because there is suicide, death, rape, and self-sabotaging behaviour.