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This piece of literature remained undiscovered until 1940, (over four hundred years after it was written). It's discovery was said to cause a "sensation." Having read this piece of work, after reading other memoirs of Japanese ladies, I can understand why. The sensation it caused is due to the author's very frank confessions. She was a lady who had emperors, priests and men of state as lovers; often at the same time. The confessions she puts forward here are all about the emotions these seperate love affairs cause her. And although she wrote in a totally seperate world to us now, the emotions she expresses are still very real. Like all of us, she experiences fluctuations of feelings and has to deal with personal loss in the guise of her father's death and the loss of her child. The reason why I have only awarded four stars, is that her poems are not the best. After reading Lady Daibu's memoirs, I feel her poems outshine Lady Nijo's. Lady Nijo shows her talents in the prose of her work. Also, the book for me was quite a slow starter, it took me a few pages to sort out who was who and so on. However, I'm very glad that I didn't give up. In the end, I was not disappointed.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The grief of the three paths a woman must follow26 Nov. 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a moving and remarkable autobiography.
First, there is the quality of the writing itself, full of beautiful short poems ('A hidden love and tears/enough to form a river-/were there a shoal of meeting/I would drown this self of mine'), comparisons ('my years had passed as quickly as a racing horse glimpsed through a crack') or metaphors ('life is more fleeting than a dream within a dream').
It confirms Lady Nijo's saying that 'the most important accomplishment for a beautiful woman is the ability to write poetry'.
Secondly, there is the extraordinary eventful itinerary of Lady Nijo emotionally as well as physically.
Emotionally, she cannot forget her father ('I shed tears of longing when I recall the care my father gave me') or her first lover at the age of 14 (the Emperor).
Physically, she gives birth before her 18th birthday to two children from different fathers and in her later life struggles for survival.
Thirdly, it gives an interesting look at court life in this period: drinking, singing, playing music, competition between the concubines and promiscuity showing general human characteristics ('She complains that I am treating you as an empress' or 'This road is too easy to be interesting').
But this book also paints aspects of commom life: the fact that many children are taken away from their parents, religious customs or prostitution.
Fourth, it gives a general impression of the importance of religion and psychology: the mighty influence of the karma principle ('I am convinced that this unbearable passion is simply the working out of some karma from the past') and the importance of dreams ('I just dreamed that I turned into a mandarin duck and entered your body').
The overall tone is melancholic ('No matter how many tints the autumn leaves reveal, once the wind rises they do not last long').
K. Brazell's translation as well as her notes are excellent. I would have prefered an afterword instead of an introduction which reveals already the fate of the author.
This is a truly moving tale, not only for Japanese scholars.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A later Classical Japanese Diary and travel book18 Mar. 2001
- Published on Amazon.com
This book is set about 200 years after the events described in the diaries of Sei Shonagon and Lady Murasaki (and tale of Genji), however, this memoir reveals a world fossilised, doing it's very best to imitate the 'elegant' world shown in Lady Murasaki's masterwork Tale of Genji. What comes across is a very conservative society, and if you weren't told the dates of the events taking place you would believe they were set in the 10th or 11th century. The writer of this memoir is a very independant and sensual woman - who took her lovers regardless of the consequences. The second half of the memoir details her travels around Japan's sacred shrines as a nun later in life. Lady Nijo constantly finds on her travels that the world outside Hein-Kyoto has changed since the days the poems she learnt at court as description of Japan's famous sights were written. Some of the old 'famous' sights have gone and she finds new ones to fill their hole. If you've an interest in these old Japanese diaries and memoirs, this should be added to your list. It's a later, and lesser known book, but worth the effort of reading.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Confessions of Lady Nijo12 Mar. 2004
- Published on Amazon.com
For such an intresting book its extraordinary so few people have left a review. Anyways, much of the court we see in the novel through lady nijo's eyes is truely fossilized as one reviewer said before, they even go so far as to try and copy musical concerts after those written about in Genji, and theres a great many allusions in the narrative to the tale of genji. The diary itself is extremely enjoyable to read, poigant at times, as for instance when she runs after Gofukakusa's funeral procession barefoot down the street until she loses sight of them. Other times its extremely funny, Im pretty sure Sei Shonogon mentioned the holiday where the women get slapped with sticks, the same was true with Lady Nijo, except she got revenge on the retired emperor by sectioning off the halls and setting up other ladies to keep an eye out for him, when he comes, they descend and all start whacking him with these sticks for revenge. after that there was a huge uproar withen the court that the women actually smacked royalty around. Overall Lady Nijo is very real, and very human in her writing, it makes for an intresting literary and historical read of the Kamekura age. One thing i personally enjoyed was that Lady Nijo was not as vain and condescending as Sei Shonagon, for instance when shes a travelling nun, Nijo actually speaks with commoners, ex-prostitutes, etc etc.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
One view from the inner court30 Nov. 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
Nijo's autobiography is another wonderful chapter in the literature of Japanese classics. And, like all true classics, it paints a picture very much like some women of today. The book is not organized as a story, or even as a particularly strong description of events. Instead, it's a first-hand description of moments that roused especially strong feelings, positive or negative. Nijo (not her born name, but the only name that has come down to us) wrote this book late in life, so the literal truth of events often seems layered under decades of nostalgia. The first passage, for example, takes pains to draw a teenage girl, tearful during her first nights in the emperor's bedroom. 'The lady doth protest too much' - that is about the last time we see her hesitate in accepting a man's overnight company. After her heyday in court society, Nijo retreats and finally takes vows as a nun. She takes the robes and duties of nun in full, but her thoughts never settle into that role. I don't mean to say that she in insincere. Still, a part of her never lets go of the happy times in court. Although she carries out her religious duties, she keeps coming back for another look at the people and rites she loved. Gradually, the people from her youth move away and pass away. The court was all she knew; in the end she doesn't know even that any more. It's like the woman whose greatest day was being prom queen. Now in her forties, she lives by remembering a time and place that doesn't remember her. Nijo conveys a pervading shallowness. She spends more time describing some outfits than the children she bears. She could have moved closer to the inner imperial circles; the retired emperor publicly acknowledged her first-born as his scion. Nijo never had aspirations so high, or never realized what could have been open to her. She was content for the child to be brought up elsewhere while her life drifted on as before. The irony of the final sentence may be the happiest moment in the book. "... I have been writing this useless account - though I doubt it will long survive me." It has survived nearly seven hundred years. There is no real point to this book, but that is part of its charm. It is just a look at one woman's world and at the woman herself.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This is one of my favorite books written by a Heian lady.27 May 1999
- Published on Amazon.com
This book is memorable and striking; being one of many of the books belonging to the class of diaries and romances written by women of the Heian court (795-1184), it is one of my very favorites. I recommend this book to anyone interested in human psychology, aesthetics, and to anyone who relishes an exceptional read - for this book is a special book. I found it more touching than many other travel diaries of the same age (all written by women excepting the travel log Tosa Nikki). The emotions expressed do not in any way seem to be those prescribed by courtly ettiquette, ie stilted. I highly recommend Towazugatari, as it is known in Japan.