The Tale of Genji was a book that I thought I would read with extreme joy after Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book. But that wasn’t the case. One of the reasons for this is that this book requires a bit of knowledge and is a bit fragmentary. OK, one doesn’t read a book written a thousand years ago for its fluency, but I still found myself thinking about how fluent The Pillow Book was. There are many different translations of this book in English, both abridged and unabridged. It was Tanizaki who translated it into modern Japanese and the first English translation was in the 1920s. As you can tell, this is not an easy book.

The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu

The Tale of Genji and the art of courting

The Tale of Genji is a book by Murasaki Shikibu, a bridesmaid in the early 11th century Japan. It is called the world’s first novel still considered to be a classic. It perfectly describes the glory of the Heian period and the relations of women and men. The art of courting was one of Japan’s most important efforts in this period. Nobles, adjusted all the details very carefully, such as the care of the letters one wrote, the subtlety of the poems, and the delivery of these letters. Of course, these are the delicacies of palace life. It is very natural that so many luxuries, comfort and abundance were ready for the nobles. And, seeing (or not seeing) women and men behind a fence made things a little more interesting when courting.

There is something magical about The Tale of Genji when you think about it. It’s not just that it was written a thousand years ago, it’s an exciting experience to read about early Japan, its human relations and psychology, and to see how political forces work back then. And Genji is a hero with many problems, he is so real that you can’t imagine. Throughout the book, one reads how Genji gets women and what games he plays, but after a while, I noticed that the main focus in the book is women.

Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.

Murasaki Shikibu

As you can see, writing on this book exceeds my authority. I couldn’t go beyond writing what I got from the book as much as I could, and I feel that I’ve missed a lot. If you want to learn a little more about the book, check the internet, there are great articles. I like Ian Buruma‘s article in New Yorker the most. Enjoy!

About the book: The Tale of Genji

Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel and is certainly one of its finest. Genji, the Shining Prince, son of an emperor, is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic.

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About the author: Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese novelist, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period.

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The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Japanese Literature – A Literary Journey

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