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The Tale of Genji [Paperback]

Shikibu Murasaki
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 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.


"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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Admirable Translation but note Jan. 18 2008
This is only 1 quarter to 1/3 of the 1200 page original.

As such it loses much of the scope and poetry that made the original so compelling. Yes it has the main plot developments but.....wait until you have the time and work your way through the original, its worth it!

As an abridged version this rating is a bit harsh, as far as it goes the abridgment is well done, but judged against the original this book is about 1/3 as good, thus 2 stars against 5 for the original in this translation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 1/4 of the the real Tale of Genji!? Nov. 4 2007
I bought this book thinking that it was "The Tale Of Genji". What I actually got (this book) was twelve chapters from the beginning of the 1200 page book "The Tale Of Genji". Edward G. Seidensticker omitted many chapters from the book which he thought were unnecessary.

I personally would have loved to know this before I bought the book, as it is nowhere in any description on this web page. I tried to read the book, but when the story starts referring to events which never occurred (since they were omitted from this version of the book) I decided that was enough. Don't waste your time on 1/4 of a book, get a whole one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars THE ACME OF REFINEMENT Oct. 19 2000
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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3.0 out of 5 stars Genji Go boy April 26 2000
this was a very intresting and hard book to follow I read it in a class a reading book. It was hard for me to keep up because of the higher vocabulary and high comedy that I did not understand.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Remember, readers, this is the world's first novel. April 18 2000
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 necessity to adore and be adored. June 14 1999
By A Customer
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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