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4.0 out of 5 stars

Showing 1-10 of 15 reviews(5 star). See all 20 reviews
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.
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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".
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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...
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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.
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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.
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on May 11, 2004
Initially I began reading the Tale of Genji after studying illustrations for it in an asian art class and hearing references to it in a Japanese history class. Two things struck me as I read it - 1) the timelessness of the novel, and 2) how the author's ability to develop characters grew even as she wrote it. It was incredibly thought provoking to read passages where the lovers wished that the moment could be preserved for a thousand years, and to realize that, in a way, it had. The novel takes you through the gamut of human experience, and you discover that a thousand years ago, human nature wasn't much different than it is today. For example, I was in stitches over one episode - when the protagonist couldn't have the lady he wanted, he managed to take her pet cat. It was so ridiculous, and yet could have been something right out of "Friends".
For me, the first third of the book was a struggle, even though I was quite interested in the historical descriptions. After that, I couldn't put it down. The characterization of the people gained depth and insight as the book went on. It was a delight to read, and I was sorry when it ended.
I chose the Seidensticker one-volume paperback over the Waley edition because it was unabridged, proported to be more true to the original story, and had woodblock illustrations from a 1650 edition. As for another reviewer commenting about the durability of the cover, I covered mine in clear contact paper right after I bought it, and it's as beautiful as new almost 5 years later. My only complaint is that the poetry seems to lose something in the translation. It seems that this may be due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, though, and perhaps may not be as much a translation issue.
I highly recommend The Tale of Genji to anyone who likes a good book and has any interest in history or Japanese culture. Their perseverence will be rewarded.
-JB Zurn, novice nipponophile
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