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The Tale of Genji [Paperback]

Shikibu Murasaki
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 16 1990 Vintage International
In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world's first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is "the shining Genji," the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world and very nearly destroy him. This edition, recognized as the finest version in English, contains a dozen chapters from early in the book, carefully chosen by the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, with an introduction explaining the selection. It is illustrated throughout with woodcuts from a seventeenth-century edition.

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Widely acknowledged as the world's first novel, this astonishingly lovely book was written by a court lady in Heian Japan and offers a window into that formal, mannered world. Genji, a man of passionate impulses and a lover of beauty, is the favorite son of the Emperor, though his position at court is not entirely stable. He follows his wayward longings through moonlight-soaked gardens and jeweled pavilions, with mysterious women such as the Lady of the Orange Blossoms, the Akashi lady, and his own father's Empress. This version is translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, who has translated a number of other great Japanese writers such as Mishima and Kawabata.

Review

"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

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The necessity to adore and be adored. June 14 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There is such a different tone to each of the translations. The sparse phrasing of Seidensticker's may be nearer to the original and from the point of view of following the plot it is certainly easier but Arthur Waley's translation is altogether more beautiful. In fact you become so mesmerized with the delicate description of the physical and the emotional that you fall prey to a kind of love affair with the book that Genji himself would have no difficulty understanding. The story is as much about each of the women as it is about Genji. Reviewers who have labelled Genji a playboy have completely missed the point; playboys are by definition carefree and non-suffering. In contrast it is the very fine nature of Genji's temperament and the intensity of his emotional attachments that lay him open to experience the most painful awarenesses. Moreover he is quite unable to banish past episodes from his consciousness or his conscience. Sexual attraction serves largely as a catalyst to romantic adoration rather than as a goal in its own right. If you study the range of language employed by Waley you will empower yourself with a vast arsenal of English phrasing. It is unlikely that any other book offers more from this point of view and I'm including here Proust, Joyce and the Bible. To the western reader it is an opening to a sensibility that many do not associate with Asia. To the Japanese student who has reached a high level of English a careful reading of Genji would be worth more than all the vocabulary books on the market. To both of them though, it would be a nourishing of their consciousness and although this undoubtedly leads to a multiplication of pleasure, it will also lead to a corresponding potential to contact with pain. Such is life and therefore I give to this work of art the greatest accolade, it captures something true, and beautiful. If you should find seidenstecker too matter of fact just try Arthur Waley, it is a matter of art.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Genji Monogatari is the first psychological novel July 12 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The first moment of jarring strangeness in Lady Murasaki's great novel comes when her hero, the shining Genji, settles for the embraces of a young boy go-between, rather than his reluctant sister. From there, the novel goes on to explore ever more complex psychological dimensions of incest, the Don Juan complex, and married love. Each chapter is composed with the care and precision of a poem, and the author's elusive / allusive prose conceals the Jane Austen-like precision with which she charts her two heroes' foibles and self-delusions. Somewhere in between Seidensticker's robust and spare translation and Arthur Waley's Proustian expansion it may, perhaps, be possible for the English reader to grasp the lineaments of the original work. The greatest novel ever written? The first psychological novel in any language? The first anti-hero (Kaoru, Genji's nephew) in world literature? Each of these statements could be defended, but perhaps it would be more to the point to say that the Genji should be as essential to the truly educated reader as Homer or Tolstoy
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Format:Paperback
Surely ,Shikibu was the great writer. Her tones are intelligent ,clear and beautiful. But, I don't like Genji. He is a PLAYBOY! Nevertheless, I feel great sympathy for him. He didn't relate very well to Genji' Girls. Kiritsubo, Utsusemi, Yugao, Momiji, Aoi, and others, they were very charming and mysterious girls. And he was longing for his Anima in his youth. After all, he got Murasaki, maybe his forever sweetheart, in this way. He coulld not have seen his Swan in his dream, I think...... Because of young Genji's behavior, he suffered terribly in his prime age. After his death, Poor soul! by the irony of fate, Kaoru, Ukifune ,every his relationships must have continued suffering,too. Oh! they could have no inspired artists, for all their gorgeous court life. Unfortunately, Ukifune tried a suicide, but, she was saved and in religious house. Probably, Shikibu thought that her soul, every character's souls couldn't rest in heaven......, Monono Aware....Love.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Remember, readers, this is the world's first novel. April 18 2000
Format:Paperback
Curiosity caused me to read this book, and for purposes of history and enlightenment, I'm glad I did. Insights into Japan of yore and its nobility and customs are plentiful, and the characters, though underdeveloped by today's standards, are interesting and even captivating. Problems? Of course... the flow is very uneven. A chapter ends, and the next one begins later in time, often skipping over crucial action (such as Genji's sexual encounter with his father's wife). The ending isn't much of an ending, either, leaving you hanging there without closure. Still, considering the age of the novel, it's not bad. Don't read this for its story, but for its historical significance.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Tale of Genji March 1 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is the first complex or psychological novel written and for me, the best. A work of genius, although to my mind a reader should have a guide, either someone who knows the novel and has studied it or several references such as Ivan Morris's guide to the Heian era. Genji has many very dark and cynical sides, which a reader may not see very well without a knowledge of Buddhism. The second half of the novel, for me, was the much better part--deeply evocative, even haunting.
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4.0 out of 5 stars THE ACME OF REFINEMENT Oct. 19 2000
Format:Paperback
It sure is a women's book; someone is in tears on every other page. Yet it does get through to a common nipponophile like me. It presents a certain ultimate in civilization, an elite who communicated to each other with brilliant artistry in subtle couplets.
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