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The Tale of Genji [Paperback]

Shikibu Murasaki
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 12 1978
The Tale of Genji was written in the eleventh century by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Heian court. It is universally recognized as the greatest masterpiece of Japanese prose narrative, perhaps the earliest true novel in the history of the world. Until now there has been no translation that is both complete and scrupulously faithful to the original text. Edward G. Seidensticker's masterly rendering was first published in two volumes in 1976 and immediately hailed as a classic of the translator's art. It is here presented in one unabridged volume, illustrated throughout by woodcuts taken from a 1650 Japanese edition of The Tale of Genji.

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"Not only the world's first real novel, but one of its greatest."

-- Donald Keene, Columbia University"A. triumph of authenticity and readability."

-- Washington Post Book World

"[Seidensticker's] translation has the ring of authority."

-- The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, is best known as the author of The Tale of Genjiwritten in the eleventh century and universally recognized as the greatest masterpiece of Japanese prose narrative and possibly the earliest true novel in the history of the world.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One of the worst books I have ever read Jan. 29 2013
By Adamo
Verified Purchase
No word of a lie, I don't think I have ever read a more boring book in my entire life. Having lived in Japan for several years, I thought this book might shed some light on Japanese traditions, life and culture. Instead I got 1080 pages describing the scent of paper, the beauty of the cherry blossoms, and the skill with which yet ANOTHER character played the koto. Repeat those three things on pretty much EVERY page of this book and you have a good idea of what you're in for. Avoid this one at all costs!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This translation VS the new translation (2001) Nov. 25 2001
By A Customer
So far I much prefer the 1973 (?) translation by Seidenstucker (whatever!). I read the first 7 or so chapters alternately until I decided the aforementioned was easier to read. The new translation might be "truer" to the original and I love the footnotes but it's difficult to figure out who exactly is talking (S. incorporates the information in the footnotes in more recent translation into the body of the text) and S. is a far more graceful writer. If you should be seized by the inclination the read this book, I strongly recommend reading "The World of the Shining Prince" (Morris) first. The genealogical charts alone are invaluable to understanding "Genji".
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book May 11 2004
Initially I began reading the Tale of Genji after studying illustrations for it in an asian art class and hearing references to it in a Japanese history class. Two things struck me as I read it - 1) the timelessness of the novel, and 2) how the author's ability to develop characters grew even as she wrote it. It was incredibly thought provoking to read passages where the lovers wished that the moment could be preserved for a thousand years, and to realize that, in a way, it had. The novel takes you through the gamut of human experience, and you discover that a thousand years ago, human nature wasn't much different than it is today. For example, I was in stitches over one episode - when the protagonist couldn't have the lady he wanted, he managed to take her pet cat. It was so ridiculous, and yet could have been something right out of "Friends".
For me, the first third of the book was a struggle, even though I was quite interested in the historical descriptions. After that, I couldn't put it down. The characterization of the people gained depth and insight as the book went on. It was a delight to read, and I was sorry when it ended.
I chose the Seidensticker one-volume paperback over the Waley edition because it was unabridged, proported to be more true to the original story, and had woodblock illustrations from a 1650 edition. As for another reviewer commenting about the durability of the cover, I covered mine in clear contact paper right after I bought it, and it's as beautiful as new almost 5 years later. My only complaint is that the poetry seems to lose something in the translation. It seems that this may be due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, though, and perhaps may not be as much a translation issue.
I highly recommend The Tale of Genji to anyone who likes a good book and has any interest in history or Japanese culture. Their perseverence will be rewarded.
-JB Zurn, novice nipponophile
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5.0 out of 5 stars You love love love this beautiful soap opera! Feb. 1 2008
By M.Y.
This book has been so popular for centuries in Japan. The story takes places in the ancient capital city of Kyoto where so many nobles and richs were living all together. Through the life of beautiful prince, Genji, the book takes you into the mysterious ancient Kyoto where court ladies has long, very long straight hair, dresses layers of silk kimono, scent of incent etc...
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5.0 out of 5 stars On a side note June 10 2000
By A Customer
Many people may not notice, but with close consideration of the history of 11th century Japan one realizes that this book is a satire on the life of the "elite" not just an account of society. Needless to say this book is all that is said above and more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Luminous May 22 2000
By A Customer
It has been said that in addition to being the world's first novel, Genji is one of its greatest. I simply could not agree more. Although I had to read Genji twice(once with Seidenstcker, once with Waley) to understand the structure of the novel, it definitely was not a waste of time. Murasaki weaves a complex web of fate and personality flaws as well as human passions, and the result is not only a romance novel, but also a psychological study. Those who would argue that the characters are underdeveloped have not read this book closely enough. Although Genji may come off as a free-wheeling playboy at first, the reader must keep in mind that at this time this book was written, it was not unusual at all for highly born noblemen to have more than one wife. Genji genuinely loves all the women he encounters, and this makes him unusual.
Many people might be surprised that although Genji was written by a woman, it focuses almost exclusively on men--first Genji, then his two "sons" (one natural, one adopted). However, look closely at the characters of Murasaki and the Akashi lady, as well as Genji's stepmother and several other ladies throughout the course of the novel. They indirectly control the course of the lives of the men around them.
The Tale of Genji should be read by every serious student of literature, as it is the first novel. However, that distinction is the least of the book's numerous merits.
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