Monkey King: Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, translated by Julia Lovell
Hardcover – Penguin – Feb 2021 – 337 pages
A shape-shifting trickster on a kung-fu quest for eternal life, Monkey King is one of the most memorable superheroes of world literature. High-spirited and omni-talented, he amasses dazzling weapons and skills on his journey to immortality: a gold-hooped staff that can grow as tall as the sky and shrink to the size of a needle; the ability to travel 108,000 miles in a single somersault. A master of subterfuge, he can transform himself into whomever or whatever he chooses and turn each of his body’s 84,000 hairs into an army of clones. But his penchant for mischief repeatedly gets him into trouble, and when he raids Heaven’s Orchard of Immortal Peaches and gorges himself on the elixirs of the gods, the Buddha pins him beneath a mountain, freeing him only five hundred years later, for a chance to redeem himself: He is to protect the pious monk Tripitaka on his fourteen-year journey to India in search of precious Buddhist sutras that will bring enlightenment to the Chinese empire.
Joined by two other fallen immortals–Pigsy, a rice-loving pig able to fly with its ears, and Sandy, a depressive man-eating river-sand monster–Monkey King undergoes eighty-one trials, doing battle with Red Boy, Princess Jade-Face, the Monstress Dowager, and all manner of dragons, ogres, wizards, and femmes fatales, navigating the perils of Fire-Cloud Cave, the River of Flowing Sand, the Water-Crystal Palace, and Casserole Mountain, and being serially captured, lacquered, sautéed, steamed, and liquefied, but always hatching an ingenious plan to get himself and his fellow pilgrims out of their latest jam. Monkey King: Journey to the West is at once a rollicking adventure, a comic satire of Chinese bureaucracy, and a spring of spiritual insight. With this new translation, the irrepressible rogue hero of one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature has the potential to vault, with his signature cloud-somersault and unerring sense for fun, into the hearts of millions of Americans.