July 7, 2009

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu - Chapters 1-12

I am reading The Tale of Genji as part of the Read Along started by Matthew at A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. Since I have been wanting to tackle this book since I first found out it is widely considered to be the world's first novel, and since I had it listed for three of my reading challenges for the year, I eagerly jumped aboard.

I have been reading the posts by the other participants in the read along (see bottom of post for links) and have been reading the book along with them, but I have been admittedly lazy in getting my posts up, too. Between my surgery and everything else, book reviews have just not appealed to me lately. I have several I need to post and I will stop slacking so much now. Thanks for understanding. I know everyone is writing their posts a little bit differently from each other. I want to use my posts on the book to discuss my thoughts on what I've read so far.

I am reading Royall Tyler's translation of The Tale of Genji. I had gotten the first part of the book from Book Mooch and it was a Dover Thrift Edition. However, I needed the rest of the book (which I thought I was getting in the first place when I mooched it) and I did not want to buy the book as funds for book purchasing are severely restricted right now. So my only option was my local library, which only had Tyler's translation. I had read that the translation was good, so I gave it a try. I don't know how other translations are in comparison other than Dover's, and this is superior to that translation. Tyler's translation is smoother and has more clarity than Dover's. Matthew said Edward Seidensticker's translation is even more accessible, but I do not have access to that one.

For those who do not know, The Tale of Genji was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu. She came from a literary family. Her father, Fujiwara no Tametoki, was an accomplished in waka and kanshi poetry. Her great-grandfather, Fujiwara no Kanesuke, was one of the chief Gosenshu poets. Murasaki is not the author's real name, but a nickname that she shares with one of the main female characters in this book. Murasaki began writing The Tale of Genji in 1001, after her husband of only 3 years, Nobutaka, died. In 1005 Murasaki was appointed as lady-in-waiting to Shoshi, the consort of the Emperor Ichijo. She finished the Tale of Genji while in court sometime before the year 1013.

So far I am enjoying the beautiful, poetic style in which The Tale of Genji was written. I love how the prose is alternated with short poems, which from what I've read about the time period in Japan is how those of higher class and rank spoke. They often memorized poems and would interject them into their everyday conversations.

One challenge I have had in my reading is in keeping track of the characters. They are often not referred to by their names, but by their titles, such as "Minister of the Left" and "Secretary of the Captain" and "His Highness of War". There are quite a few characters to keep track of (especially when Murasaki alludes to characters who have not been formally introduced yet). I am not familiar or comfortable with this and find it hard to keep track of. If I find it continues to pose a problem for me, I will use the character tracking idea that I mentioned a week or two ago. I don't want to miss something because I am not keeping the Minister of the Left and the Minister of the Right straight.

One thing I am looking forward to as I continue reading is what I think Murasaki was foreshadowing in Book 2, The Broom Tree. In this book (chapter), Prince Genji and his friends gather together to discuss the different types of women, along with their advantages and disadvantages. The conversation seemed like a foreshadowing of the types of women Genji would encounter during his life. However, I am still piecing together which type Aoi, Murasaki, and Fujitsubo are. I get that Aoi reminds him of his mother and Murasaki of his aunt, Fujitsubo, but as to which of the types of women discussed in Book 2 they are I am not sure. Still, I am hoping to discover more about how this conversation about women plays out as I read the book.

Sorry that was a little longer than I intended. I will hopefully get my next post on it up in less time than it took me to get this one up. :)

Chapters Read: 1-12
Pages Read: 253
Lady Murasaki by Tosa Mitsuoki

Links to the Latest Posts by Others in the Tale of Genji Read Along:
(if you are in the read along and I missed you, please let me know)

A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
Ready When You Are, C.B.
kiss a cloud
Farm Lane Books


1 comment:

  1. It does make sense that the characters would be difficult to keep track of--I think there might a total of 400 or something like that? Anyway, it does sound like you're enjoying it despite that.

    Thanks for the review and for linking to other blogs in the challenge! I'll have to check them out. :)

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