Beautiful story of ineffably strange bishounen Prince Genji of Japan, and his many loves and such. Hard to characterize, but full of poetry and mono no aware. Probably the world's first novel, written by Heian courtier Lady Murasaki Shikibu. AKA Genji Monogatari. There are also at least two lovely manga of the same name, an illustrated version by Amano, an anime, and probably far more than one film.

Oddly enough, Project Gutenberg does not appear to have a copy of Genji, which I find completely mystifying.
The "Genji Monogatari" is an immense novel composed between the years 1004-1011 by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.

Murasaki Shikibu was a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko and herself a member of a minor aristocratic family. With this background, she depicted the life of the court of the Heian era in the fictional story of Hikaru Genji.

Genji was born to an emperor and a lady of the court. Tales of his amorous, langorous adventures depict the mores, the culture of the court, and the ground of Japanese aesthetics that have grown from that soil since.

The novel, designated by UNESCO as the first novel in the world, and Murasaki as the first novelist, is vast in scope yet shimmering in details. The story spans four generations and eighty years in 54 chapters about the lives of over 400 characters.

Throughout, the close association between the changes in season and the activities of the people is woven with the Buddhist realization of impermanence.

The novel was written in the Japanese of the time and is as incomprehensible to the modern Japanese reader as it would be to readers of other languages. Males of the Heian era wrote almost exclusively in the kanji borrowed from the Chinese while the Hiragana phonetic script used for Japanese was something for women. In these fine, delicate characters Murasaki made her world come alive. Translations into contemporary Japanese have been made.

The poetess and early Japanese women's liberation movement Yosano Akiko (1878-1942) made a translation of this and other Heian era works.

The great novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirô (better known as Juchiro Tanazaki) made several translations, the first of which was banned in 1938 by the military government. Yasunari Kawabata was working on a version at the time of his death. A few, more pornographic editions have been made.

There are several translations into Western languages including English. Arthur Waley produced a version that is very loosely based on abridgements of The Tale but is a beautiful book in its own right. Edward Seidensticker produced what seems the best translation in 1976.

Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji is an ancient and grand novel which has themes, traditions, and prose that still sparkle in today's limelight.

Although it is beyond the scope of this write up to review the Tale of Genji (as it is 54 chapters long spanning well over 1000 pages), nevertheless, there are some over riding themes worth highlighting. One of those interesting themes is the traditional Japanese theme of "mono no aware," the deep awareness of the impermanence of youth, love, and beauty intertwined. The tale revolves around the interactions between Genji (the protaganist) and the women he has relationships with. The themes, then, stretch from love, friendship, to death.

The characterisation is a special element of the book as there are hundreds of different characters. The plot is fairly simple, as it depends upon which character you are reading to what is happening in the story. Another Japanese tradition this book founded; characters do not necessarily have names, but rather, they have designations, or they are defined by their relationship to the central figure - Genji.

The Tale of Genji can be read as kind of Buddhist parable. Throughout the book, karma is touched upon and eventually made into a reality. In the beginning of the book Genji has an affair with one of his fathers wives (the culture is based on an polygamous marriage system) and later on in the book, the same thing happens to him. Albeit a mammoth task to read such a long book, the reader will glimpse at a culture and life whose influence still hangs in the air to this day.


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