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The Pillow Book (Penguin Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Sei Shonagon , Meredith McKinney
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £10.99
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Book Description

A new translation of the idiosyncratic diary of a C10 court lady in Heian Japan. Along with the TALE OF GENJI, this is one of the major Japanese Classics.

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Product Description

About the Author

Meredith McKinney is a translator of Japanese literature, both contemporary and classical. She lived in Japan for twenty years and currently lives in Braidwood, New South Wales.

Meredith McKinney is a translator of Japanese literature, both contemporary and classical. She lived in Japan for twenty years and currently lives in Braidwood, New South Wales.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1178 KB
  • Print Length: 404 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0140448063
  • Publisher: Penguin; Tra edition (30 Nov. 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI97V6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • : Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #152,944 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book of thoughts 14 Dec. 2007
Relatively little is known about Sei Shonagon's life. We know she was a court lady in tenth-century Japan, at the pinnacle of the Heian period.

And she left behind a glimpse into her culture's period in "The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon." It's a sort of mishmash memoir -- gossip, reflections, lists, and personal recollections are all mingled together, with a light, poetic delicacy that still is striking today.

The story behind the Pillow Book is that when Shonagon (possible real name: Kiyohara Nagiko) was serving the Imperial Family, the Empress Teishi received a bunch of notebooks that she couldn't use. As they were too valuable to discard, she gave them to Shonagon to use as she chose.

And so Shonagon basically poured her thoughts into her "Pillow Book" -- she offers brief reflections on the world around her, diary-like recollections of things that happen among the ladies in waiting, essays on court life, lists, poetry, and pretty much anything else she dreamed up.

One of the most intriguing things about the Pillow Book is the glimpse into tenth-century Japan that it gives. Shonagon's stories are about little things like flutes, disobedient dogs, clothes, and the Empress's ladies betting on how long it would take a giant mound of snow to melt (no, I'm not kidding). Somehow, it leaves the past seeming a little less distant.

Normally these stories would be curiosities only. But Shonagon -- despite her tendency towards snobbery -- had a special knack with prose, and and a bright, shimmering wit. Her charming love of beauty is often enchanting; she often lists things that she finds pleasing, such as moons, summer nights, flowers and willow trees.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the New Translation 19 Mar. 2009
I have to question the translation of the previous version by Ivan Morris for Shonagon coming across as an early twentieth century Western Modernist prose writer. Though he argues its accuracy, I believe there is little need for direct accuracy, because just as an accurate translation of Anna Kerenina to the East would lose Tolstoy, and how Alexander Pope's accury of Iliad lost Homer, Marris' accuracy of The Pillow Book loses Shonagon. This translation, though I am usually the first to criticize contemporary translations, which often dumb down the language of the work (see Edith Grossman's Don Quixote) this translation retains the poetic language, the airy pacing of the prose and the rich scent of its gentle observer. Above all, being much more of a pleasure to read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A glory of world literature 31 Dec. 2010
By Xerxes
I first read this book (the Ivan Morris translation), way back in the mid 1980s when I was studying Japanese drama at University. I was recommended it by my tutor - a great man.
I LOVED Sei Shonagon from the moment I started to read her; she is snobish, priggish, judgemental, sensitive, witty, funny and always fascinating.
This new translation gets even closer to the spirit of this remarkable woman. It is a wonderful peak into the lost world of the Heian court and in spite of the distance in time and space, Sei Shonaghon's beautiful voice resonates loud and clear. Read it; I urge you!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating look into Japanese court life 28 Oct. 2009
I had to read exerpts from The Pillow Book for my Early Japan History class. Initially, I thought it would be dull and stuffy, but I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible the 1,000 old diary was. There is a lot of sass and satire in the few pages I read. A pillow book is a collection of observations, thoughts, and stories. This one has lists of "distressing," "depressing," and "elegant" things, most of which have a satirical bent. There are some fables and allegories, such as one about a dog that was banished from the palace due to a misunderstanding, is mistreated, and then comes back and eventually recovers from his trauma and recognizes his mistress, The Empress, and another story about a rude old woman who ignores the kind things the royalty has done for her. There's also a few instances where Shonagon gently pokes fun at gender relations, when a woman gets the better of a Fujiwara courtier by flawlessly memorizing a number of prestigious Chinese poems. Lastly, she also wryly makes fun of religion in an exerpt where she states that "A Preacher Ought to Be Good-Looking." She states that the better looking the preacher, the more people attend the services and the more pious they act. She also comments on the flirting and excuse for courtship church provides.

The Pillow Book, while personal, often provides many insights to Heian culture, and thus it's a useful piece of literature. We had to read excerpts from The Tale of the Genji, another important work written by a woman during the same time period, but I found it unbearably dull. In some ways, The Pillow Book is almost like a 1,000 blog, except it's wittier than most of the blogs out there today.
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