Fenkl has produced a fluent, lively and indeed elegant translation of this work, which does its author justice and skillfully navigates between avoiding self-conscious archaism (this is a 17th-century work, after all) in the tone of the book whilst at the same time using language which has not been made to sound anachronistic or too 'modern' ... Kim Man-jung does not simply write a book extolling or privileging the virtues of Buddhism. He was, after all, the head of the Confucian Academy, and although Buddhism does come out as the prevailing philosophy, Kim includes Confucian and Taoist elements in the book ... the structure of the novel is complicated, and to fully understand what Kim Man-jung is doing with it requires reading Fenkl’s introduction, which is learned but very accessible, and adds depth for readers who might simply read this book as a good adventure-story which, fortunately, it is, but to leave it at that would not explain why the book is a 'classic'.
The Nine Cloud Dream is inhabited by Buddhist philosophy—the world of dust is illusion and all the earthly scheming, deceptions, plots, and sensual pleasures are transient and ultimately meaningless ... Driven by set pieces, poetic prose, and Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian philosophy, The Nine Cloud Dream can be read as a quaint period drama or as esoteric parable.
Man-Jung’s rollicking fantasy is a many-layered pleasure, equal parts fairy tale, religious instruction, and ode to classical Chinese literature and society ... a hypnotic journey, a scholarly, instructive Buddhist bildungsroman set across Tang dynasty China, and in Insu Fenkl’s skilled translation, a glimpse into the rich crossroads of religions and society therein.