1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2006
not realizing that there were about four versions of "The Tale of Genji" out there, i bought the version translated by Kencho Suematsu..now i realize i shouldve gotten the Seidensticker or the Tyler version. however, i enjoyed it nonetheless.
at first, when i started reading this book, i thought,"this story..isnt it about 54 volumes or so? this book is horribly thin." and the language is pretty hard to understand. i had to go back at least twice per page to understand it mostly, not even fully. however, once i got used to the language used, it was very easy to understand the rest. reading pages 1-approx. 10 took a couple of days, but getting used to it had pages 11-90 whizzed through. the story angers me at parts, but that proves that it is a good story. :) i recommend it.
since i have recently gotten into the japanese culture, reading this tale was at the top of my to-do list. having read Memoirs of a Geisha [which was a wonderful story as well..i give it 5 stars], i was dying to read some more about the fascinating japanese culture. this book is a great addition, but i think i will have to buy at least another version to fully appreciate this story.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 November 10, 2001
I love The Tale of Genji, but this edition has its flaws.
The hardcover is easily stained, and the black center easily rubs off and gets everywhere, not to mention it makes the book look incredibly beat up. (if you think the paperback is a solution, don't. A paperback of this size shouldn't even be touched.) I've only had mine for a year and it already looks like I've owned it for twenty. It isn't like I trashed it either - I always take very good care of my books.
I'm rather ambivalent about the quality of the translation. On the one hand, having read Waley's translation, Seidenstickers seems to be the one that is truer to Murasaki's original - he adds no extra language to what she was trying to say - however I have come across a few sentences that are obviously faulted, as they make absolutely no sense. Being very few in number, it hardly presents a problem, but never the less, it can cause some minor confusion.
Now, the story itself. The Tale of Genji is over 1000 years old. I must say it is simply fascinating just to own a copy of a piece of history. The Tale of Genji is incredibly captivating and haunting, beautiful and at times difficult to follow - but that makes it all the more enjoyable. You almost have to study it if you wish to fully understand it - and I'm a scholarly type, so I at least find that enjoyable.
All I would really say in warning is that you should have at least a bit of an understanding of Japanese and ancient Japanese culture - because the behavior of the characters, particularly the men, might rub the average westerner the wrong way.
The poor durability of the cover and the few sentence flawes forced me to take off a star. At least the sentences don't make any real difference, or it would be horrid. I myself plan to own all the translations of the Tale of Genji, so this is a must. And even if you are not, it is not a bad buy at all. Just make sure you take extra, extra care of it. :)
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 June 10, 2002
At first you think its "Memoirs of a Geisha", but this one has far too many details for that. Its court life in Japan with all its back stabbing rivalries. This book takes you back to a time when a woman was not seen and barely heard, yet they commanded men to cross oceans for just one possible look at their beauty. This long (very long) novel is interspersed with what may seem like a thousand little poems, and each one is a gem. I suggest you read this book if you are interested in: Japan, women's roles in Asian cultures, or if you just want a good read.
on January 29, 2013
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!