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The Tale of Murasaki [Paperback]

Liza Crihfield Dalby
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2001
In a wonderful world shaped by beauty and poetry, ancient traditions and popular intrigue, a young woman at the centre of the eleventh-century Japanese imperial court observes the exotic world around her. Murasaki sees everything, the Emperor and Empress, aristocrats and concubines, warriors and servants, her own family. She records a remarkable place of political and sexual plotting, male power and female manipulation, as she writes the Tale of Genji, the masterpiece of Japanese literature.

Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099284642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099284642
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 564,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

As I pondered this question of how to be a success at court, I came to the conclusion that literary ambition was more likely than not to bring a woman to a bad end.
Liza Dalby's enchanting book The Tale of Murasaki is a brilliantly imagined fictional biography of the 11th-century Japanese writer Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji--the world's first novel. The Heian period produced at least two great works of world literature: Murasaki's The Tale of Genji and Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book; Dalby's fine first novel draws directly from the surviving fragments of Murasaki's own diary and poetry (as well as the occasional echo of Sei Shonagon) to create a vivid and emotionally detailed portrait of an intelligent, sensitive and complex woman drawn initially to writing stories about the amorous encounters of Prince Genji as a means of entertaining her friends and expressing her own richly creative temperament. As the stories become public, however, she is forced, against her own natural reticence, to take up a position at court, and the Genji stories become a conduit for commenting on the mores and intrigues of court life. Struggling to write and to stay true to her literary vision, her last tales are inflected by Buddhist thought on the transience and beauty of the world.

I have always felt compelled to set down a vision of things I have heard and seen. Life itself has never been enough. It only became real for me when I fashioned it into stories. Yet, somehow, despite all I've written, the true nature of things I've tried to grasp in my fiction still manages to drift through the words and sit, like little piles of dust, between the lines.

Dalby is an anthropologist by trade: research for her first study Geisha gained her the distinction of being the only Westerner to have trained in that much misunderstood profession, and she was a consultant on Steven Spielberg's film of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Following a second study, Kimono, Dalby has turned her attention to fiction with admirable results, reinvigorating the genre of the historical novel with a narrative that combines meticulous research with emotional acuity. Recreating the intricate world of 11th-century Japan--the political and sexual machinations, the preoccupation with clothing and custom, the difficult and tenuous position of courtiers, the intensity of female friendships in a male-dominated society--Dalby shows us how Murasaki's sensibilities were shaped by and responded to the culture in which she lived.

A rich and convincing debut book, then: and if, in addition, readers are moved to read the works of Murasaki and Sei Shonagon themselves, Dalby is to be congratulated all the more fulsomely for reminding us of the work of these great writers. --Burhan Tufail


‘Liza Dalby is not just a remarkable scholar of Japan – she is a keen storyteller’ -- Arthur Golden, author of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully wrtten tale 5 May 2001
By A Customer
Since reading memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, I was hoping to find a similar book to read, when this book caught my eye in the book shop. The book focuses on Murasaki's life as an intelligent japaneses women in the 11th century. Most importantly through her experiences and emotions she is inspired to write the tale of Gengi. When reading a book, I feel that it is important for any author to capture the readers imagination. This book certainly captured mine. However, I would reccommend this book to those who are serious readers,and not for those who enjoy simple stories, after all there is a lot of poems which have been translated from japanese to english and to be honest I didn't really understand the meaning of most of them, unless they were explained in the book. There were also alot of spelling mistakes!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The trend within the last 5 years to unmask the complexities and intriguing rituals of Japanese society has led to Liza Dalby rising to the top due to her thourough, intellectual understanding and poetic way with words. Like 'Geisha', this book provides a beautiful, insightful and highly decorative view into Japan and the Japanese. This really was a joy to read, unfolding slowly with snippets of wit and cunning in the poems. The one real problem with this book is the proliferation of mistakes - the proof-reader on this book should seriously consider a career change - stupid mistakes and careless proof-reading left me frustrated and annoyed. When the prose is running so smoothly why distract our minds with gramatical sloppiness. Therefore although this is a truly wonderful read, be prepared to have the sights and sounds this novel weaves into your brain rudely interupted by carelessness! (and don't think about criticising my grammer to make a point - I'm not paid to proof-read!)
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This was the first book I read by the author and I enjoyed it completely. Before reading this novel about the ancient Japanese writer known as Lady Murasaki, I had never heard of her before, or her infamous novel, The Tale of Genji. However, Dalby's work of fiction about this author of the Heian period served to gain my interest.
Dalby described the customs of this period in an unforgettable way for me. I loved how poems were seen as being so imprtant to life within the imperial court. Details such as this made this book and the time it describes seem all the more magical, it added to my feeling of escapism.
Dalby tells this story very well, with attention to detail (such as how Dalby describes the clothes worn by the women) prevailing throughout. I loved this book, it will remain one of my favourites for a long time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Trip to Heian-kyo 21 Dec 2007
The ''Story of Murasaki is a delight for anyone who likes a good story and a must if you've read Murasaki Shikibu's 'The Tale of Genji'. That 11th century novel by a lady at the imperial court is one of the best in the world - of all time. In her own book, Liza Dalby brings back Murasaki, the author of Genji, her father, siblings, friends, the empress and emperor, and the real ruler of Japan - Fujiwara Michinaga. She does it so well that the reader becomes a shadow presence in Murasaki's world sharing her customs, manners, pleasures and troubles. L. Dalby's writing is excellent as is her research. Compelling reading that culminates with a feeling of separation and loss when the book comes to its end.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring tale of a woman in a medieval Japan 28 May 2001
This was my second book by Liz Dalby and i thought had my doubts about her turning her hand to fiction. i was wrong thoguh. this book is beautiful. it lets to see how women functioned in that time. a time where women where pretty and ornamental.this women had intelligence and used it to remain free from the court life which intrigued yet repulsed her. it was a brilliant story and i cannot wait now to read Genji. i cant wait to read more books about Japanese culture by Liz Dalby
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
After thoroughly enjoying "Geisha" by Liza Dalby, this was the perfect book for me to get to know medieval Japan--it's so engagingly and frankly written its a joy to read, and although its meant to be a fictional piece of the remarkable authoress of Japan's first novel, you get to know her on a confidante level, sharing her sensibilities and plight throughout the book. The book is interspersed with two-liner poems which capture the general transience of the characters' emotions; while the Tale of Genji itself, interwoven with this diary of Murasaki's life, adds a dimension of intrigue and bated breath throughout. I loved the wonderful rendition of this woman's life, much more than I think I would have liked her Tale of Genji itself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book that takes you to a different world 11 Dec 2000
As the reviewer before me said, the start was slow, but once into the book, it is a stunning read. I read it on holiday and looked forward every day to entering this world where nature and fleeting feelings carried so much weight...
I felt a great affinity for this book - a rare experience as I'm usually not drawn to historical fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted and totally mesmerising 6 Jun 2000
By A Customer
Liza Dalby captures the mesmerising tale of Murasaki Shikubi and tells her story and the story she ( Murasaki ) created almost a thousand years ago. This is the life of someone who absorbed the world around them providing the contempory reader with a better understanding of ancient Japanese culture in a very readable and enjoyable fashion.
Culture/Passion/Poetry/Love...all the ingriedients of a classic!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful insight into the life of the first female novelist, Lady...
I've read Liz Dalby's 'Geisha' book, her tale of becoming the first ever Western geisha in the name of anthropology. Read more
Published 6 months ago by LolitaLaura
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but ...
Liza Dalby is clearly an expert in her field, and has some talent as a descriptive writer, but failed to provide a soul for this novel. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
The story is very captivating with the charm and mystery of the orient. One of the first English language books I read. Therefore it holds a special place in my bookshelf.
Published 19 months ago by davidhatchwell
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow read
This book took me a while to get into and I almost gave up but I am glad I persevered with it. The style in which it is written somehow made me read it very slowly which is... Read more
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by lynnrec
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
I love Liza Dalbys writing style and this book didnt let me down. The story is really a representation on what early japanese civilisation would have been like. Read more
Published on 27 Aug 2009 by Mrs. R. E. Marshall
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Amazing
I loved this book, it was amazing, I kept forgetting that it was set so far in the past.

I highly recommend it.
Published on 27 May 2008 by Nightlover
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading
This is a great book for anyone who has the slightest bit of interest in Japanese history. Liza writes so well, that you can easily lose yourself in the book and transport... Read more
Published on 29 Aug 2004 by Joanne Rech
3.0 out of 5 stars The tale of murasaki
I thought this was a well researched book and definately well written; however it has to be one of most depressing books I've ever read. I felt deflated when I finished it. Read more
Published on 1 Feb 2004 by "wicked_113"
5.0 out of 5 stars Entrancing, immerse yourself in ancient Japan
This novel centres on Murasaki, and her writings. She is credited with writing the world's first novel "The Tale of Genji" and this novel follows her life, pieced together from her... Read more
Published on 21 Jan 2003 by J. Cronin
4.0 out of 5 stars Trip to a far away land
Books hve the ability to take you places to which ou could never go. And this book more the most. Its a land very different from other's in the 11th century and very different from... Read more
Published on 13 Jan 2002 by
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