One of the famous work of Japanese literature is the eleventh-century Tale of Genji by a woman of the imperial court. This title evokes Murasaki's close family, the men and women she loved, the vortex of high politics she was drawn into at court, and the way in which Murasaki came to write her masterpiece.
The title character struggles with the same questions and doubts through hundreds of pages. She comes across as a self-absorbed, self-important woman who, at the same time, suffers from doubt about her writing skills and worthiness to be at court.
If you would be excited to read page after page describing the 15 layers of fabric on someone's court dress (and do it again fifty pages later), if you can't get enough double entendre waka (poetry style pre-dating haiku), if you just love to hear that the Imperial Palace has burned down (for the 12th time), this book is for you.
I agree with those that remarked on the lack of background regarding the politics and religion that shape this novel, but I didn't find it overwhelming. Instead, it spurred my interest to investigate further.
It is hard to judge the qualities of characters that are living in a world so far from our own. The exchanges of "waka" seem bizarre at first, but I actually found myself looking at my own surroundings (especially nature) in a new light. Although the author, I felt, was too detailed, too wordy (especially in the long descriptions of colors and kimonos), we could all learn something about saying so much in so few words.
How enthralling to briefly inhabit a world without time;
how much my time has changed.
Read Nov 2004