The first complete new translation for 25 years of the acknowledged masterpiece of Japanese literature. Lady Murasaki's great 11th century novel is a beautifully crafted story of love, betrayal and death at the Imperial Court. At the core of this epic is Prince Genji, the son of an emperor, whose passionate character, love affairs and shifting political fortunes, offer an exquisite glimpse of the golden age of Japan. Royal Tyler's superb new translation is scrupulously true to the Japanese original but appeals immediately to the modern reader. This edition also includes notes, glossaries, character lists and a chronology to enable the reader to appreciate the richness of this classic of world literature.
If you are only going to read one translation of the Genji, make sure it's the Royall Tyler one. This is a beautiful, beautiful translation. Seidensticker can be rather dry, and Waley can have some rather jarring anachronism, but this one just flows so smoothly and is true to the somewhat intuitive style of the original Japanese.
This is also a book that you shouldn't read in a hurry. Take the time to savor it. Maybe even just a chapter here, a chapter there. Curl up with a cup of tea and just drift for a while.
The good looks that the people at court thought would lead to Genji having a short life, proved to be wrong and ended up turning Genji into s true ladies man. Most of the story is consumed by Genji's affairs, which can be a bit tiresome and confusing. Genji chose some rather unexpected characters to become his lovers including a little girl that he brings to the palace to shape into the perfect wife. One good thing about all of Genji's affairs is it gives the reader the chance to read many different Waka, which are two lined poems that would be exchanged between lovers.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Japanese history, since it is written by someone who lived during the Heian period. This book is also good for anyone who truly enjoys classics because it is considered one of the WORLD's first novels. However if you don't mind lengthy books, I would recommend reading the unabridged version which has 54 chapters compared to the 12 available in this version. One plus to the abridged version is it is full of woodblock printings inspired by the novel.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it's long and complex, which makes it a difficult read. Murasaki Shikibu didn't use any names for her characters when she wrote it. Instead she referred to characters rather obliquely by things like title or place of residence, which often change over the course of the story.
I've found that it's a book you cannot put down and come back to later and be able to pick up right where you left off. It's too complex for that. Rather, you have to be able to dedicate yourself to reading the book from start to finish, which is difficult to do given its length.
Casual readers will probably prefer an abridged version of this classic. Liza Dalby's Tale of Murasaki is also an excellent and accessible introduction to this work.
The Tale of Genji is an epic, inter-generational story filled with court intrigue, passion, desire and longing, with just a touch of the supernatural. It's almost like reading a Heian period soap opera. The eponymous Genji is the son of the Emperor's favorite Intimate. An exceptional man in both appearance and character, much of The Tale of Genji follows his life and romantic exploits. And because of his good looks, he is able to get away with much more than he really should. The last third of the novel turns to the lives of his heirs and descendants and their own romantic follies. While there is certainly an overarching narrative to The Tale of Genji, the novel frequently feels like a collection of very closely interconnected short stories. There is also a fair amount of humor in the tale. It's as if the reader is privy to the best court gossip and scandals.
One of the things that I love about Tyler's translation of The Tale of Genji is that it is so much more than just a translation. In addition to the copious and very helpful footnotes, Tyler provides an abundance of other useful information about the work and its context in the form of an extensive introduction, maps and diagrams, a chronology, general glossary, explanations of the importance of clothing and color, descriptions of offices and titles, a summary of the numerous poetic allusions, a list of characters, and suggestions for further reading. Each chapter begins with an explanation of its title, its relationships to other chapters, and indicates which characters are involved and the current title by which they are known. Also included are delightful line illustrations by Minoru Sugai depicting scenes and objects from The Tale of Genji, originally commissioned by Shogakukan Publishing. The only thing missing that I would have liked to have seen would be a family and relationship chart since things can get pretty complicated.
Granted, I haven't read any others to be able to compare, but I am very glad that I chose Tyler's translation of The Tale of Genji. Because Tyler remains so faithful to the original Japanese it's not always an easy read due to the amount of detail that must be gleaned from context rather than being explicitly stated and the complicated sentence structures. But Tyler offers plenty of guidance for the reader who wants it and I found his translation to be both elegant, accessible, and informative. Even excluding the additional material provided by Tyler, The Tale of Genji is a lengthy novel. Instead of ploughing through the book like I might have, I chose to take my time with the novel, reading a few chapters every few weeks and extending my enjoyment over a long period. Reading The Tale of Genji was a wonderfully immersive experience into Heian period Japan. For me, it was completely worth the time and effort required to really appreciate the tale.
Experiments in Manga
Genji to the English-speaking world and had a tremendous cultural impact. It was also the first version I read (since at the time otrher versions were not around), and contributyed to my lifelong interest in Heian Japanese culture.
If offers a panorama of characters surrounding the lives and loves of Genji and Murasaki. It opens a window into life of ancient Japan, a time when admiration for beauty prevailed.
My God, I can't take it anymore. Shining Genji this, pretty Genji that. Everything is always pretty and everybody always cries because things are so beautiful. Genji has affairs with women at the rate of one per chapter, Genji has affairs with a woman who looks like his mom, Genji adopts a little girl which he raises to be his wife, and builds a nice house to move them all in. His children are all fantastically beautiful. Everything is peach fuzz. Courtship -> the affair -> then the noble ladies pine for Genji. This happens multiple times.
Of course, there is the whole matter of my being raised in a completely different time and place, and thus missing out on a huge background of cultural context. Perhaps all this could be explained. So this isn't the end of my affair with Genji yet.
I'm not quite sure, in my uninformed opinion, that Genji can still be considered a novel. There is a definite prose style, multiple recurring characters. and even some form of psychological insight. There is also extensive usage and quotation of poetry. There also isn't much of an overarching plot, just several small narrative arcs which span a few chapters at most.
Blech. I might reread one of Vollmann's novels about whores to get the taste out of my mouth.
It also took me quite a while to get into - the elliptical way of referring to people and events was quite confusing at first, as are the very japanese sensibilities. However, well worth persavereing with. I'd almost like to learn japanese so I coudl go and read it in the original, but somehow I can't see that happening. I'd also like to read other translations, though by all accounts the [[Waley]] version has less to do with the original text than you would suppose from a translation. I'll have to keep an eye out for other versions.
It's considered a classic both from Eastern and Western standpoints.
The story itself basically covers the romantic intrigues of Genji and his son over a long period in the court of feudal Japan. I did not find it all that engaging through much of the narrative but as an insight to society and its customs it was certainly educational. I am glad I stuck with it and finished but it is not a tome I would wish to revisit anytime soon.
Read Samoa June 2003
I am also cheating by writing this review after completing just the first volume of the two volume work - 570 out of 1200 pages. I will go on to read the remaining text, but I badly needed a break.
The Japanese language seems ideally suited to indirect speech, and the Tale of Genji makes it clear how much content was delivered by allusion rather than clear expression. Royall Tyler has tried to convey some of this in his translation. To make it comprehensible for the average English reader he adds information at the start of each chapter, and provides extensive notes to the text. Without this assistance it would be just about impossible to know who is who. The characters are referred to by titles, which change regularly as they proceed through life, or by a reference to something that happened in their story - a colour, a flower, a plant, a place and so on. I found myself frequently lost, even with Tyler's assistance.
But while the full length book is not as easy a read as the simplified text, the effort is worth it. You get a wonderful impression of the sophistication of life in the Japanese court 1000 years ago. The manners, the art, the architecture, the landscaping, love and courting - are all so far in advance of anything happening in Europe at the time that it gives a western reader cause to pause.
Of course, part of the appeal is the strangeness of the social mores of the time - courtship and conquest can occur without the beau ever clearly seeing the face of his paramour!?
The Tale of Genji is often referred to as the first novel. While it is different in concept from modern novels, it is certainly recognizable as a "real" novel. I don't know enough about Japanese literature at the time, but it is certainly a remarkable effort. The writer, Murasaki Shikabu, was a court lady of the 11th century, and her book seems to have become popular almost immediately.
Read (and still reading) Aug 2017
This is the tale of “Prince” Genji, a son to a second concubine and thus his status is relegated to a glorified commoner. With no real duties or status, Genji embarks upon making the ladies happy with poetry, song, and lovemaking. His first “love” is a concubine of his father, Fujitsubo. Fujitsubo is the niece of the deceased Kiritsubo consort which she highly resembles. For the remainder of the story, Genji will pursue women who resemble his mother; Freud would have a heyday.
While this book does give us important history and cultural information,my personal take is that it reads like a soap opera; maybe a pre-cursor to Don Juan. But then, give the people what they want, eh? Because of the longevity of this book, I rated it 3 stars, but I didn’t really care for it. Read it because is was on the 1001 BYMRBYD list.
The story centers around Genji, the son of the Emperor, who is removed from the line of succession because his mother was of lower class and was acceptable. With power out of his grasp, Genji more or less becomes a collector of women, whom he installs in different wings of his house. As he ages, his political fortunes change a bit, then stagnate and the things Genji did as a young man circle back as he experiences them from the opposite end.
There were parts of of the book that were cringy for me -- even though I understand this was a different time period -- not all of these women really wanted to be collected and his relationship with the young Murasaki was troubling. Overall, I thought the book was okay, but it definitely wasn't something I would have pushed through if it weren't on the 1,001 list.