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The Tale of the Heike Paperback – 30 Apr 1988

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Product details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; annotated edition edition (30 April 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804718032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804718035
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 3.6 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 653,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

"This version of the Heike is superb and indeed reveals to English-language readers for the first time the full scope, grandeur, and literary richness of the work as a masterpiece of medieval writing." - Journal of Asian Studies


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 May 1999
Format: Paperback
As one of Japan's most important pieces of historical literature, the Tale of the Heike provides a glimpse into the last days of the courtly Heian period, just as it was replaced by the Kamakura Shogunate at the end of the Twelfth Century. Those readers accustomed to stories of Sixteenth-Century samurai will find this an interesting change of pace. The sensibilities revealed in the narrative provide an interesting insight into the thought processes of the people of medieval Japan.
McCullough's translation is very good; her prose is compact, but maintains the poetic quality of the original texts with a minimum of distracting footnotes.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Mar. 2001
Format: Paperback
The Tale of the Heike or the Heike Monogatari originated like the Iliad and Odyssey as a cycle of folk-tales sung by wandering blind minstrels called the biwa oshi (the biwa is a kind of lute and oshi is a Buddhist title meaning 'master of the doctrines' generally given to monks and itinerant holy men) recounting the rise to power of the Heike or Taira clan in the late 12th century and the bloody Genpei war which ended with their destruction and the establishment of Minamoto Yoritomo as the first Shogun.
Collected into its present form by an editor of genius called Kakiuchi between 1340 and 1371 and handed down to posterity by a guild dedicated to the performance of this work alone, the Heike has inspired countless traditional dramas, ballads and poems and in 20th century Japan has been used as the basis of best-selling novels, films, TV serials and comics.
Anyone who is familiar with both the later period of the Shogunate as popularised by the Samurai films of Kurosawa or the eponymous TV series or with the earlier period captured so perfectly in the Tale of Genji when Japan was ruled by a charmingly refined and effete court aristocracy, will find the Tale of the Heike a strange hybrid of the two with the warrior heroes of the feuding Heike and Genji clans dragging enemies from their saddles and twisting off their heads for later display but in the intervals between battle expressing their feelings with a refinement that belongs to the world of the Heian court.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Parkinson on 3 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This tragedy follows the decline of the Minamoto, or Heike, the family that dominated Japan in the few decades before the beginning of the period of the Shogunate.
It's history, for a change, from the loser's point of view. Though fully aware of the faults of the Heike, those who wrote the book soon after their fall still see the tragedy from their perspective, and can see all their merits - their elegance, poetry and music - as well as their sins.

Even in translation, the sorrow of the long war and exile of these men and women is intense. The start is slow: it chronicles the wrongdoings of the Heike, some of which are dramatic and interesting (burning monasteries) and most of which are not (giving too many court appointments to allies). But once the war starts, the tale weaves together elegiac beauty, dramatic battles, and sorrow for a lost world.

It allows you to see into the (rather foreign) mindset of the era - to sympathise with, as well as understand, the courtly culture, aesthetic obsession, and very fatalistic Buddhist worldview.

The translation reads very well, but the notes are sparse. This edition plainly isn't meant for the reading public. There is a lot of material on the composition of the tale and on its literary features, but very little on the culture, religion and poetry, which is not easy to understand. In particular, there's lots of beautiful poetry which is hard to understand without footnotes explaining its references and imagery. Even if you are familiar with Heian poetry some of it is sadly utterly obscure without this.

That said, if you have read some earlier Japanese literature - The Tale of Genji, Pillow book of Sei Shonagon, perhaps others - you will find that the book is not only understandable, but powerfully emotional.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
90 of 93 people found the following review helpful
Great translation of a venerable classic 17 Aug. 2001
By Hong A. Ooi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Translations of Japanese and Chinese classics are often hampered by the archaic language used in the originals. This was not the case here and the translator has achieved a balanced fusion of great story-telling and accurate presentation of the text. This is no small achievement since the Heike tale is populated by many diverse characters some of whom are only mentioned once whereas others have great influence on the plot despite their brief appearances.
I have found that the best way to read the book is to treat oneself to the episodic nature of the chapters. This reflects the original format of the story; that it was expressed in minstrel style story-telling by the "biwa-hoshi" in nightly recitals. As such each segment of the story can be treated like individual pearls in a string, each complete and entertaining by its own merit but strung together to form the whole epic saga of the Heike. Attempts to read the book in the style of a conventional Western novel with its continuous narrative will result in frustration since the story seem to take many didactic excursions and side plots. This may also have been the rootcause to the earlier frustration of another reviewer who encountered too many characters to comprehend at one single reading. A similar experience can be found if a first time reader tries to read the Bible continuously from Genesis to Revelation.
The other great challenge in this translation is in its reference to the characters of the story. The long titles accorded to each individual felt cumbersome and unnecessary at first but as I continued reading I began to appreciate that the original narrators of the tale were relating to the traditional Japanese audience, not the modern reader. As such the titles and honorifics were not only essential but required for reasons of protocol. Many listeners in feudal Japan were related or held similar positions to those described in the story. This realization helps the reader to savour the vintage of this work.
The book also helps to lift a veil over 12th Century interaction between Japan and China. The narrators often recited characters from ancient China as part of the shared heritage of Japanese perceptions of honor and duty. The exchange of ideas and cultural practices between the two empires comes across as very vital and alive at that period as expressed by the presence of a Chinese physician during Taira no Shigemori's death. My initial fascination about the extermination of the Taira (from reading the story of Earless Hoichi from Kwaidan by L. Hearns) have been greatly enriched by the full account of the Gempei Wars found here in the Tale of the Heike. The sense of karmic justice where the terrible fate that befell the Taira clan was a direct result of the evil deeds of Kiyomori was all but pervasive in this book. Great reading!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Japan before the Shogun 27 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As one of Japan's most important pieces of historical literature, the Tale of the Heike provides a glimpse into the last days of the courtly Heian period, just as it was replaced by the Kamakura Shogunate at the end of the Twelfth Century. Those readers accustomed to stories of Sixteenth-Century samurai will find this an interesting change of pace. The sensibilities revealed in the narrative provide an interesting insight into the thought processes of the people of medieval Japan.
McCullough's translation is very good; her prose is compact, but maintains the poetic quality of the original texts with a minimum of distracting footnotes.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Best version of this Japanese classic 8 Sept. 2009
By V. Cristino - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
McCullough's rendition of this classic Japanese tale of warfare is, compared to other translations I've studied, the most eloquent and poetic available to westerners.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If You Want To Understand Japan… 26 July 2014
By Russael - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I just finished McCullough's Heike. The story is grand; if you want to understand Japan, treat yourself to some version of this story. It's probably more influential today than Genji. Many Noh, Kabuki, and other plays and stories use plots from the Heike. It reminds me of the Iliad, with Japanese characteristics. I had McCullough's version before Tyler Royall's version came out. The big difference between the two versions is that McCullough's is prose, Royall's is verse. The original is prose; Royall argues that it was probably performed more like verse. So take your pick. I thought McCullough did a great job of balancing all the responsibilities of the translater and editor, giving us as much a flavor of the original Japanese epic as our modern English sensibilities would allow. I haven't read the Royall; the verse is a little daunting. McCullough's Heike is unfortunately not available on kindle.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Not an easy reading but a must have 19 Nov. 2010
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One of the jewels of the Japanese prose presented in this translation from the commonly accepted final version of Kakuichi Gogenbiwa.

There is probably no other work more influential in the Japanese literature than the one presented here. It is a must read book should you want to learn about the Japanese medieval history and mentality. This work is presented in it's original tale genre of monogatari (story telling) but in order to get the best of your reading pleasure it is important to understand that this work was conceived to be played along with an instrument called the Heike Biwa resembling what it could be ancient epic poems by minstrels in the medieval Europe.

The tale is about the struggle between the clans of Minamoto and Taira for the control of Japan during the XII century, in the Heian period (794-1185). A period where the samurai spirt, the bushido, flourished.
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