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6 Reviews
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably my favourite book, 8 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback)
This is a woman writing over a thousand years ago, but it doesn't seem like it. Through her annecdotes of court life, we gradually get a picture of a very different life style to our own. What really drew me to the book was that Sei Shonagon writes in such a way that you feel as if you know her. She is petty, rude and snobbish but in such a human way, the way that everyone is. Her humanity and outspokeness make what could be a very dull historial document become a joy to read. It is a pillow book, that is, almost a notepad. Sei Shonagon used it to jot down any thoughts which came into her head, whether they be about the latest fashions, her lover or the beauty of the spring flowers. There are many lists of her likes and dislikes - hateful things including snoring and mosquitos. This is a book which is at times, beautiful, surprising and very funny. You will find that it is not so much a historial document as a revealing picture of a very interesting if sometimes silly woman.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great way to be absorbed in early Japanese culture!, 19 April 1998
By A Customer
After reading The Pillow Book for a school assignment, I realized that I'd thoroughly enjoyed it. At first I thought, "What a pain in the butt! I have to read this boring thing." But as I got deeper and deeper into the book it enthralled me more and more. You can experience early Japanese culture at its best. I would reccommend this book to anyone who wants a taste of Japanese culture. I found it a little hard to read, but then I am only a ninth grader. This is a wonderful reading experience, and I admire Ivan Morris' excellence with translation of the Japanese language.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book, 21 Jan 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback)
This is a very interesting book, allowing readers to gain an insight into a long forgotten time in history. Shonagon fills her book with details about life in the Japanese court. The characters are all interesting and timeless. From reading this book you are certainly transported to another world entirely, where different things are regarded as important within the society, such as poetry for expressing emotions, especially between lovers or potential lovers.
Ivan Morris also adds to this book, by providing very detailed and informative notes to accompany the text.
I enjoyed this book very much, however, if there is one problem I have with it, it is that Shonagon often appears very opinionated which at times I found quite irritating. However, the book is supposed to have been produced originally as a private piece, so perhaps I shouldn't fault her for that!
That said, I do rate this book highly. After all, it certainly takes you to another place and another time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 5 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback)
Apart from contents, that are lovely however, it is remarkable the critical apparatus. Even a reader with scarce knowledge of japanese culture and society at Heian times is allowed to understand them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A lover's visit is the most delightful thing in the world, 26 Aug 2012
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback)
This book is a personal diary which had to remain secret, as the author states at the end: `whatever people may think of my book, I still regret that it ever came to light.' However, it has an enormous historical/sociological importance, because it gives a very rare insight into the palace life of a Japanese puppet emperor around AD 1000.
The author expresses also her personal vision on mankind, men and women, her social, sexual and moral preferences as well as her remarkable poetic inspiration.

Palace life
Palace life was completely cut off from the rest of the population. The palace was a golden prison and its life turned around the puppet emperor, the empress and her ladies in waiting. It consisted mostly of chatter, intrigues, gossip, secret encounters with lovers, exchanges of messages written as short poems, like `My name, though innocent of rain / Has long been spattered by unfounded tales.'
Daily life was uplifted by ceremonies, festivals (dance, music), excursions or pilgrimages (temple visits).

Mankind
As a haughty person, the author's vision on mankind is highly influenced by her admiration of status (power) and her obsession with etiquette.
Men should not be trusted: `A man's heart is a shameful thing. When he is with a woman whom he finds tiresome and distasteful, he does not show that he dislikes her, but makes her believe she can count on him.' And, `how shameful when a man seduces some helpless Court lady, and, having made her pregnant, abandons her without caring in the slightest way about her future.'
She scorns the plebeians: `what is it like to be one of those women who live at home, faithfully serving their husbands - women who have not a single existing prospect in life, yet who believe that they are perfectly happy.'
And, `it is unpleasant to see a woman of a certain age with a young husband; and it is most unsuitable when she becomes jealous of him because he has gone to visit someone else.' (!)

This book is a goldmine for Japanese scholars. For `normal' readers it can become boring with its many trivial scenes about sewing, eating and drinking, carriages, clothes, birds, trees etc. However, its human, literary and sincere emotional qualities make this pillow talk, written some one thousand years ago, one of the highlights of world literature.
Not to be missed.
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8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What I feel., 1 Nov 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback)
No matter if you have or have not read The Diary of Lady Murasaki, you will love The Pillow Book. Although this book is written in the same period as Murasaki her diary, it works in a very different style. This book in some ways are much easier to read than other literature, as the section doesn't link together, therfore, you don't have to remember any plot, and making it a very good book to read even when you have a busy life. If you are sick of sophisticated plots/vocabs, this book is for you. It is suitable for all age.
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The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon by Sei Shonagon (Mass Market Paperback - 29 July 1971)
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