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on 20 July 1999
The Tale of Genji was written around the turn of the last millenium, when the Heian court of Japan was at its zenith.
Murasaki Shikibu's work has been called the world's first psychological novel and is a masterpiece far ahead of its time.
It tells the tale of the life of a Prince, Genji and how his life reflects the fortunes of the Japan of 1000 years ago. Rich in metaphor, the book can be seen as reflective of Murasaki's view of a world in decline.
More than this, though, the book is a truly educational insight into life in the Heian court - a life unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Aesthetics, social values, sexual attitudes and religion are all illustrated in Murasaki's careful, understated style. It is also rich in poetry and provides a beautiful example of the importance of poetry to Japanese society; an appreciation that has continued to the present day.
It contrasts with the work of Murasaki's contemporary, Sei Shonagon's "The Pillow Book", in both style and attitude but together they describe a society, almost unimagineable in modern times.
Seidenstecker has undertaken the monumental challenge of translating the medieval Japanese so that an English-speaking audience might enjoy The Tale of Genji, which stands alongside the finest of the world's great works of literature.
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on 21 October 2006
So much has been said about Genji Monogatari: some say it is the world's first novel; others, the greatest novel ever written; others again an incomparable source of information on Heian Japan. For some it is a satire, for others a great love story. All these are probably true, but it depends on your point of view, culture and even your sex as to how true.

My reading showed me that it is one of the greatest of autobiographies. For me, Murasaki, whose own name we do not even know, is the true hero of the story. Genji himself is a cypher: yet for sure Murasaki loved him, or someone like him. In her book Murasaki stands revealed; it is one of the great acts of intimacy in world literature. She is tangible, present in every adjective, real, alive. She was a strong living personality, a passionate nature, possessing great sensitivity to nature (so much more than the conventional Heian pose) and one who loved deeply and was not able to express her love. Of Murasaki, the scholars tell us, we know nothing. But her book tells us as much as one person can tell another, and with such power that we can never forget her.

This is a book from a distant era. Its survival, composition, culture and conventions, even its authorship, have inspired scholarly debate. There is even a 'Murasaki question' to parallel the 'Homeric question', concerning who wrote the book. Homer is in fact a useful analogue, but we don't need to know any of this. Murasaki tells us all we need to know. Over 1,000 pages, 400 characters and many, many tankas, yet we never lose the way. I like to think that Murasaki never finished her book, and that somewhere she is still writing some later chapters, that someone who loved so deeply in 11th century Japan could be granted some special dispensation by those in charge.
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on 22 August 1999
This excellent book, for me, opened up the rich and fascinating world of Heian Japan. The structure Murasaki Shikibu used in terms of plots and characters is great, leading the reader through many twists and turns in the life and loves of men and women of the court. Seidensticker does a wonderful job of translation, covering many things Waley neglected, and inserting helpful and informative footnotes. Altogether a simply fantastic book.
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on 2 March 2009
It's pushing it, maybe, to purport to review an acknowledged masterpiece of world literature on Amazon, but it might help potential readers to know how this book surprised me ...
When I bought it, the checkout man said he had a copy that had remained unread on his shelf ever since, like Finnegan's Wake. I knew just what he meant (and so do you).
For about the first third, I pretty much had to discipline myself to read it, and frankly found it hard going. [I speak as one who regularly rereads "Moby Dick" for pleasure here.] The world it depicts is very alien indeed, and the characters (including "Shining Genji" himself) ... not so easy to like. Murasaki is as clear-eyed about her characters as Jane Austen.
Then the novel takes fire (and the reader also begins to find his bearings in its strange world).
I stayed up into the small hours finishing this book - a thing I would never have believed possible when I began it.
I can't say anything about its excellence that hasn't already been said, but would just say that, although it would be daft to describe Murasaki as "feminist", she does a fine job of showing just how vulnerable and exploited even - or especially - high-born ladies were in her world. Even the kind men do continual harm.
But the book creates a whole world, and is far above anything so simple or vulgar as a "message".
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on 25 January 2007
The Tale of Genji itself is amazing: the first novel ever, perhaps the most beautiful prose ever written, etc, etc, so I won't go into that. To talk about the translation, this 1976 one by Seidensticker is the best I have read. It's sparer and more lyrical than the very scholarly 2001 translation by Tyller.
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on 29 June 1999
Unfortunately I read the Italian transalation, which has not been prepared referring to the original Japanese text, but to the English translations. Indeed in Italy we have only a translator's translation at our disposal! However, the novel is extremely fascinating, you really take part to the plot, and you are sorry when you finish reading. The story could have gone on and on. I do not share the view that Genji was a playboy. This opinion is prejudiced by our views as to personal relationship, which are of course very different. We cannot judge past ethics and morals with our ideas.
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on 27 August 2002
Having just finished this book I am at a loss for words. An amazing story, inviting you into the folds of another culture that you won't want to leave. The book is physically beautiful as well ... green fabric hard back with a black and white paper jacket and the Everyman imprint on the inside of the cover ... one of those books that is a pleasure to sit down with. Read it! Then read it again!
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on 20 January 2002
I first discovered this book after reading Liza Dalby's "The Tale of Murasaki." Murasaki's novel, of life during the Heian period of Japanese culture, opens up to the reader a world in complete contrast to the world we live in today. Her insights are both timeless and poetically described, as events within imperial court life, and the individual characters making up that society, are interwoven into elegant prose.
This novel truly allows the reader to gain further insight into an ancient part of history, and the beauty of the novel is increased by the short poems which occur throughout this translation.
Seidensticker has certainly done an incredible job at translating this work of art, the footnotes he adds to the text are always helpful and interesting.
This is truly a beautiful book. I cannot reccomend it enough, it is now firmly one of my favourites. Read it and escape to another time, and certainly another place, a completely different world...Fascinating.
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on 8 October 2000
This is not a review of the story. This review is to comment on this edition. The book is 212mm tall, 55mm thick and 135mm deep. It is attractively bound with a simple three colour (black, white and red) dustjacket. It includes an informative and interesting Introduction, a Select Bibliography, a Chronolgy and a list of Principal Characters. The book also has a dark green string bookmark. When I opened my box, I was surprised at how nice this editoin is. There are no illustrations, on the inside or the cover, but I don't mind this. A handsome edition of a great story. It would make a nice gift.
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on 17 October 2013
Buyers beware - contrary to the impression given by the web site description, this is only part 1 of The Tale of Genji: about one sixth of the whole.
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