The tale of genji

by Murasaki Shikibu,

Hardcover, 2001

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Viking, 2001.

Description

Written 11th century : account of court life in Japan. Classic.

Media reviews

The main thing required of a noble gentleman in Heian Japan was a sense of style. Seducing another man’s wife could be forgiven; a bad poem, clumsy handwriting, or the wrong perfume could not.
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Het verhaal van Genji is dé klassieke roman uit de Japanse literaire historie. Het boek werd in de elfde eeuw geschreven door Murasaki Shikibu, pseudoniem van een hofdame in de keizerlijke hoofdstad Heian-kyo (Kyoto). Het torent al duizend jaar als de berg Fuji uit boven het literaire landschap van Japan.

User reviews

LibraryThing member elevbess
The Tale of Genji, what can you say? It might be considered the world's first psychological novel, but some consider it deadly boring, some consider it a soap opera set in Heian Japan, others can never get past Genji's so-called "Oedipus Complex." I find a wonderful, relaxing escape to a long ago society. Dig beneath the surface of Genji's numerous romantic escapades and you'll find that he really is a well drawn character, with as many flaws and merits. His journey is worth following.

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.
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LibraryThing member JessicaMarie
The Tale of Genji is a rare glimpse into eleventh century Japan. Murasaki Shikibu does a magnificent job describing the life at the imperial court. The story follows the life of Genji who is the son of the emperor, but his mother is of very low rank so he is unable to become an heir. Even though Genji cannot become an heir to the thrown he is the jewel of the imperial court, being talented in everything that was valued at the time including: poetry, dance, koto playing, and a keen eye for ascetics. Some could say that Genji is the equivalent of the European Renaissance man.

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.
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LibraryThing member banshea
The story is wonderful, at once grounded in an idealized Heian Japan and universal. The trappings are peculiar to the setting, of course, but the motivations, emotions, and responses of the characters are perfectly intelligible to the modern reader. In other words, it's everything you'd expect from a work that has the distinction of being the world's oldest 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.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
While I gather from scholarly comments that this version has its flaws, omitting a some material and inaccurately translating other parts, it is still the version that introduced
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member CharlesSwann
This is an English version of the famous literary work, 'The Tale of Genji' by Murasaki Shikibu. It is really hard to read this book in original language, that is to say, in Japanese. I can even say that almost all Japanese cannot read this in original ancient Japanese without any caption and translation, especially in modern days. Only schalors in Japanese literature can read the original text. However, when it is translated in English, it is read really easily without any difficulty compared with in Japanese. But, that means many important elements are lost when it is traslated in another language, and you can't say ' I read all the Tale of Genji.' if you don't read the book in original text. Although it is true, but, this English version of the book, at least holds some kind of 'smell' the original has, so, you can enjoy the world of Genji.… (more)
LibraryThing member xieouyang
This is a phenomenal novel. Difficult to read, yes; but definitely a worthwhile effort.
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.
LibraryThing member JessicaMarie
The Tale of Genji is a rare glimpse into eleventh century Japan. Murasaki Shikibu does a magnificent job describing the life at the imperial court. The story follows the life of Genji who is the son of the emperor, but his mother is of very low rank so he is unable to become an heir. Even though Genji cannot become an heir to the thrown he is the jewel of the imperial court, being talented in everything that was valued at the time including: poetry, dance, koto playing, and a keen eye for ascetics. Some could say that Genji is the equivalent of the European Renaissance man.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.… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Stopped. Page 400 of 1120. Might resume later.

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.
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LibraryThing member sarjah
One of the first books ever written and by a woman! That's why I picked it up, but it is really hard to read the translation. The language is very flowery, prosaic and hard to slog through. It's made even harder because very few people are named by their actual names in the story so it's hard to tell who's who. There is a story between the covers somewhere about a prince and his amorous adventures. if you are interested in Japan and its history and culture it is worth a read… (more)
LibraryThing member antiquary
A very pretty version of the first four (of 6 parts) of the Waley translation of Genji.
LibraryThing member crazyjerseygirl
Widely known as the first novel in all history, this book tells the life and loves of 'the shining Gengi" a noble man growing up in Heian Japan. The story is moving at some points, oddly erotic at others. Well worth the time and effort.
LibraryThing member bookczuk
My university copy of this book. We have another on our home library shelf. When I was studying Asian History, this was a must read. I don't remember much, except that this is often referred to as the world's first novel -- lots of pillow talk, and descriptions of sleeves as well.

It's considered a classic both from Eastern and Western standpoints.… (more)
LibraryThing member RoC
What a great book! Admittedly it took me two goes to read it, but the first time i tried I was commuting to work by walking several miles and it is a great big brick of a novel. Now i drive everywhere thats much less of a problem.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member VikkiLaw
Once I figured out how to hold this book with one hand and a nursing newborn in the other, I tore through this book.
LibraryThing member Shinsengumi
The book many consider the world's first novel, Genji Monogatari (aka The Tale of Genji), through beautiful prose, provides the reader insight into the ebbs and flows of court life in Heian Era Japan.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
I had previously read an abridged translation of the Tale of Genji and enjoyed it so much that when I heard there was a newer and complete translation, I wanted to read it. It has been a challenge. While 300 pages of 11th century Japanese court life is fresh and exotic, 1200 pages of it is a little overpowering.
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
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LibraryThing member missizicks
It took a while to read, but it was worth the effort! An interesting insight into the Imperial court and society in Heian era Japan. I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed being a woman in that time and place!
LibraryThing member mbmackay
An 11th C. Japanese saga of love & life in the Imperial family. Arguably the world's first novel. Fabulous.
Read Samoa June 2003
LibraryThing member tess_schoolmarm
The Tale of Genji, thought by many to be the first novel in the history of world literature, was written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu, in the eleventh century. Lady Murasaki lived during the Heian Period (794-1185). Reading a general description of this era, it is known for the writing of poetry, diaries, and fiction produced by court ladies for court ladies. Themes often included the love of nature as well as the art of love within the court.

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.
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LibraryThing member knightlight777
Considered the first novel written in ancient Japan. I took this on as it is cited as a classic in literature. It was of monumental length and somewhat difficult for me to follow and associate the multitude of characters that emerged.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Audacity88
There's a lot of beauty in Genji's world, but his character is in the end too shallow to make his story worthwhile.
LibraryThing member amerynth
There are definitely some things to like about Murasaki Shikibu's massive "The Tale of Genji," especially if you're interested in this period of Japanese culture. The book's biggest strength is in the description of daily life of the Japanese court and commoners and in this manner, the book has an almost cinematic feel.

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.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
The one translation I have not, as yet, been able to get through. I have read Waley and Seidensticker with pleasure, but bogged down in Tyler early on.

Language

Local notes

Two volumes. Slipcase.

Barcode

2136
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