on November 25, 2001
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".
on August 14, 2003
The Tale of Genji, or Genji monogatari, was written in the tenth century by Shikibu Murasaki. In it, there is a deep look at the culture and way of life of the highest classes in Heian-era Japan.
The tale itself is about the 'shining prince'; Genji. Son of the emperor and one of his lowest consorts, Genji is fated to be one of the most important men of the age, but never able to truly ascend to royalty. This story, all thousand plus pages of it, details his life full of music, poetry, and efforts to win the hand of various ladies.
While starting out very episodic, Genji soon turns into a more refined tale, when all the threads of story come together to create surprising relations and events that will delight the imagination in their color and depth. By the end of the book, you will have lived through so much of the characters lives that each person comes into their own, and you cannot help but hope that all will end well.
I will say, however, that this book is somewhat difficult to get into for the uninitiated. There's much in the way of allusion to religion of the day (be it Shinto or Buddhism), and of customs that are barely mentioned due to being so commonplace at the time. As such, I would suggest something to introduce people to the Heian culture.
My first and best suggestion would be The Tale of Murasaki, written by Liza Dalby. It's a diary of the author of Genji, Shikibu Murasaki, pieced together from poems and the real diary, and filled in with further guesses as to her life. Compared to Genji, it is very approachable, and makes reading this story even easier.
I cannot recommend Genji enough, being quite possibly the first novel in the world, and certainly one of the best. For anyone with an interest in Japanese history, well-written romance, or just the best of the written word, Genji is sure to delight.
on August 29, 2001
The Tale of Genji is a truly impressive book. It is, as the description states, "widely acknowledged as the world's first novel." Because of this, there was little precedent for the book. Most great authors learn their craft and are inspired by other great works. But Murasaki Shikibu had little to go on, other than much smaller and shorter pieces of literature. That is what makes this book so impressive. If it had been written in the 19th century, I may not think so highly of it. But, as it is, I'd rank The Tale of Genji among the greatest novels of all time.
The one thing that really struck me about The Tale of Genji is that it shows how little human nature changes despite vast and dramatic changes and differences in various cultures and time periods. It's amazing to read a book that was written 1,000 years ago in Japan, and to know that you can relate to Genji and the other characters in this book. Our basic fears, longings, and desires have remained, and hopefully always will remain, essentially unchanged.
If you do plan on purchasing this book I recommend Waley's unabridged translation.
on May 22, 2000
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.
on March 2, 2000
of all the ways of judging a book (or a film, or any other art-form, for that matter) here is a method i recommend. (1) start the book. (2) finish the book. (3) watch what happens. if you're still thinking about the book 3 months later you could say it was a good book. a very good book. if you're still thinking about it 12 months later, well, you have something very special on your hands. if you're still thinking of the book YEARS later, congratulations, you have a classic. which brings us to "Genji." have to admit, at first i was daunted by its size and complexity (puette's guide is a must). have to admit, i didn't particularly admire the main character much, either. have to admit, there were times i got bored. have to admit, i fell in love with murasaki (what a woman!). and finally, have to admit, i was glad to finally put it down, about 2 or 3 months after picking the thing up. but, of course, in a sense i never really put it down, because the damn thing keeps going through my head! and as time goes by i miss my "friends." i even miss that old hornbag genji!
on June 29, 1999
Unfortunately I read the Italian transalation, which has not been prepared referring to the original Japanese text, but to the English translations. Indeed in Italy we have only a translator's translation at our disposal! However, the novel is extremely fascinating, you really take part to the plot, and you are sorry when you finish reading. The story could have gone on and on. I do not share the view that Genji was a playboy. This opinion is prejudiced by our views as to personal relationship, which are of course very different. We cannot judge past ethics and morals with our ideas.
on August 21, 1999
This excellent book, for me, opened up the rich and fascinating world of Heian Japan. The structure Murasaki Shikibu used in terms of plots and characters is great, leading the reader through many twists and turns in the life and loves of men and women of the court. Seidensticker does a wonderful job of translation, covering many things Waley neglected, and inserting helpful and informative footnotes. Altogether a simply fantastic book.
on February 1, 2008
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...
on March 25, 2002
Anyone who hasn't read Genji in some form is doing themselves a great disservice. If you can't read Japanese, grab the nearest translation. Some people will dicker over minor differences amongst translators, but I have read several and have yet to see any deviations that take away from the overarching story.
on June 9, 2000
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.