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The Tale of the Heike [Paperback]

Helen McCullough
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 1990 0804718032 978-0804718035 1
The Tale of the Heike is one of the masterworks of Japanese literature, ranking with The Tal of Genji in quality and prestige. This new translation is not only far more readable than earlier ones, it is also much more faithful to the content and style of the original. Intended for the general audience as well as the specialist, this edition is highly annotated.

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From Library Journal

The great Japanese civil war in the latter half of the 12th century between the Taira (Heike) and the Minamoto (Genji) ended with the Minamoto victory at Dan-no-Ura in 1185. The story became the subject of many compositions, crystallizing in the Kakuichi version of 1371, of which this is a translation. It is handled very clearly and efficiently, with an extensive glossary, chronology, and lengthy discourse on the work from a literary point of view that helps the reader get a grasp of what is, to Western eyes, a somewhat disjointed and episodic narrative. It is good to have a bright new translation to stand beside Seidensticker's Tale of Genji , representing the two great Japanese epics. Donald J. Pearce, Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth, Lib.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This version of the Heike is superb and indeed reveals to English-language readers for the first time the full scope, grandeur, and literary richness of the work as a masterpiece of medieval writing."—Journal of Asian Studies

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great translation of a venerable classic Aug. 17 2001
Translations of Japanese and Chinese classics are often hampered by the archaic language used in the originals. This was not the case here and the translator has achieved a balanced fusion of great story-telling and accurate presentation of the text. This is no small achievement since the Heike tale is populated by many diverse characters some of whom are only mentioned once whereas others have great influence on the plot despite their brief appearances.
I have found that the best way to read the book is to treat oneself to the episodic nature of the chapters. This reflects the original format of the story; that it was expressed in minstrel style story-telling by the "biwa-hoshi" in nightly recitals. As such each segment of the story can be treated like individual pearls in a string, each complete and entertaining by its own merit but strung together to form the whole epic saga of the Heike. Attempts to read the book in the style of a conventional Western novel with its continuous narrative will result in frustration since the story seem to take many didactic excursions and side plots. This may also have been the rootcause to the earlier frustration of another reviewer who encountered too many characters to comprehend at one single reading. A similar experience can be found if a first time reader tries to read the Bible continuously from Genesis to Revelation.
The other great challenge in this translation is in its reference to the characters of the story. The long titles accorded to each individual felt cumbersome and unnecessary at first but as I continued reading I began to appreciate that the original narrators of the tale were relating to the traditional Japanese audience, not the modern reader.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Japan before the Shogun May 27 1999
By A Customer
As one of Japan's most important pieces of historical literature, the Tale of the Heike provides a glimpse into the last days of the courtly Heian period, just as it was replaced by the Kamakura Shogunate at the end of the Twelfth Century. Those readers accustomed to stories of Sixteenth-Century samurai will find this an interesting change of pace. The sensibilities revealed in the narrative provide an interesting insight into the thought processes of the people of medieval Japan.
McCullough's translation is very good; her prose is compact, but maintains the poetic quality of the original texts with a minimum of distracting footnotes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Fiction. July 11 2001
Admittedly, the book is a bit rough for the average reader. It is, nonetheless, the root of oh so many modern stereotypes of Japan, and, interestingly enough, Western popular mythologies (Star Wars anyone?). If you read, keep in mind that the book is based on historical facts - facts translated through the mouths of blind traveling bards - performances then immortalized in various text/versions - and then, centuries later, translated into English. Ms. McCullough had a daunting task and has done an amazing job. It takes effort to read this text, but it is well worth your time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Almost what I expected Sept. 8 2003
By A Customer
But Helen McCullough left me feeling like not all the translations made it through with all their meanings intact. I realize such a minor point should not keep me from rating her a 5, but the poetry of Japan has so much expression (and double meaning; see Genji) that I felt left out of the story.
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