Immanuel A. Magalit
The Tale of Genji, and this (Seidensticker) translation, is without doubt one of the finest reading experiences one can possibly have. What I want to review is what the publisher has done with this book.
I purchased this copy in June 2001, and on the frontispiece it says 4th printing. There are so many printing errors in this book it mars what might otherwise have been a sublime reading experience. I will give you just one example: on page 113 a line reads:
"Then came Koremitsu's house, he would be called a lecher and a child theif [sic]."
Now this made no sense to me, either as a sentence or in the narrative context, so I consulted the abridged edition (which I also have). The line should have read:
"Then came Koremitsu's unsettling report. He must act. If he were to take her from her father's house, he would be called a lecher and a child thief."
That's a total of 14 words missing between "Koremitsu's" and "house".
This is the most serious error in the book, but there are many others, and I've only read 1/4th of the book so far. This Everyman Library edition, the publisher boasts, uses acid-free cream-wove paper with a sewn full cloth binding. It's a beautifully designed book. If only the publishers had given as much attention to the soul of this book as to its body, it might have been worth the price I paid for it.
Books should come with a warranty, really.
The Tale of Genji, or Genji monogatari, was written in the tenth century by Shikibu Murasaki. In it, there is a deep look at the culture and way of life of the highest classes in Heian-era Japan.
The tale itself is about the 'shining prince'; Genji. Son of the emperor and one of his lowest consorts, Genji is fated to be one of the most important men of the age, but never able to truly ascend to royalty. This story, all thousand plus pages of it, details his life full of music, poetry, and efforts to win the hand of various ladies.
While starting out very episodic, Genji soon turns into a more refined tale, when all the threads of story come together to create surprising relations and events that will delight the imagination in their color and depth. By the end of the book, you will have lived through so much of the characters lives that each person comes into their own, and you cannot help but hope that all will end well.
I will say, however, that this book is somewhat difficult to get into for the uninitiated. There's much in the way of allusion to religion of the day (be it Shinto or Buddhism), and of customs that are barely mentioned due to being so commonplace at the time. As such, I would suggest something to introduce people to the Heian culture.
My first and best suggestion would be The Tale of Murasaki, written by Liza Dalby. It's a diary of the author of Genji, Shikibu Murasaki, pieced together from poems and the real diary, and filled in with further guesses as to her life. Compared to Genji, it is very approachable, and makes reading this story even easier.
I cannot recommend Genji enough, being quite possibly the first novel in the world, and certainly one of the best. For anyone with an interest in Japanese history, well-written romance, or just the best of the written word, Genji is sure to delight.
The Tale of Genji is a truly impressive book. It is, as the description states, "widely acknowledged as the world's first novel." Because of this, there was little precedent for the book. Most great authors learn their craft and are inspired by other great works. But Murasaki Shikibu had little to go on, other than much smaller and shorter pieces of literature. That is what makes this book so impressive. If it had been written in the 19th century, I may not think so highly of it. But, as it is, I'd rank The Tale of Genji among the greatest novels of all time.
The one thing that really struck me about The Tale of Genji is that it shows how little human nature changes despite vast and dramatic changes and differences in various cultures and time periods. It's amazing to read a book that was written 1,000 years ago in Japan, and to know that you can relate to Genji and the other characters in this book. Our basic fears, longings, and desires have remained, and hopefully always will remain, essentially unchanged.
If you do plan on purchasing this book I recommend Waley's unabridged translation.
Love the book. There are countless references which it takes the time in footnotes to explain. I felt that this book was well thought out and well translated. I like that it references each poem alluded to in the text to let the reader find the poem and read it him/her self. The binding was good quality, the dust cover is sturdy. The only complaint I have of this book is the tassel that it comes with of cotton and is not bound at the bottom, as a consequence it has started to unravel. I'll probably end up cutting it off since it will completely unravel before you've finished the book. Other than this, great read and good quality.
Just a great historical book that stands the test of time. Book came wrapped with the vintage book underneath. Love the story and would recommend the read.