Customer Reviews: The Heike Story: A Modern Translation of the Classic Japanese Tale of Love and War (Tuttle Classics)
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on March 1, 2000
Like the previous two reviewers I too have lived in Japan and speak some Japanese (in fact I work as a Japanese/English translator), and I have to say that personally I quite enjoyed this book. Yoshikawa's novel is based on the Heike Monogatari (Tale of the Heike), which is a classic of Japanese literature and one of the best historical sources of the late Heian Period in Japan. "Heike Story" remains true to the history but fleshes it out in a way that brings the historical characters to life. The translation seemed fine to me, and I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Japanese history and culture, and especially the late Heian and early Kamakura Periods.
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on June 30, 2008
I am a Japanophile and history buff, so I loved this author's "Musashi" and "Taiko" novels. I finally got around to this and am quite disappointed. I agree with those who have found this translation weak---the dialogue sections are stilted and the feelings of the characters seem awkwardly expressed in English. The worst damage to the novel is the abridgement of entire sections, deletion of characters and incidents and the condensation of some chapters. As noted at the end of the "Historical background" section, this is an "English version" of the novel!

Eiji Yoshikawa is definitely ill served by this version and the publisher should seriously consider having a new translation made. As it stands, this version does not even cover the fall of the Heike---which is the main point of the whole chronicle.

Still, Yoshikawa weaves a good tale---he gives a human face to historical events. What delights have English readers been deprived of by this badly mangled version?
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on August 31, 1999
I first read this book over 30 years ago and have read it several times again. It is a beautiful story and the translation gives it all the justice it deserves. I don't understand the problem the previous reader had with it. It is highly accessible (unlike the translation of Tale of Genji that I read years ago) and requires no special knowledge of Japanese geography, history, etc. I recommend it highly. (FYI, I too have lived in Japan and traveled extensively throughout the country. My Japanese isn't good enough to read it in the original.)
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on February 18, 2005
Despite what some of the previous reviewers have said, this translation is not that bad.

For the record, a rice-ball is just that -- a ball of rice. In Japanese, it's an "onigiri." Basically historical Japanese fast food. Sushi did not exist in the 12th century. Why *not* call sake wine? Would these reviewers be upset that "lager" is usually called just "beer"?

And "general of the guards" has nothing to do with the shogunate. Since when is the shogun a palace GUARD?

As for Minister of the Left: The Great Council of State -- which governed Japan -- was headed by three ministers: Minister of the Left, M. of the Right, and M. of the Center. The Left was senior to the other two.

Could this have been a better translation? Definitely. And for many reasons. But not for any of the ones whinged about in previous reviews.
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on September 28, 2015
it reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred years of Solitude. The Heike story follows the life of a family of samurais, depicting what there life was like and how deeply involved in politics and battling they could get. from what i've understood, this story is a great depiction of what life was like back in the day in japan, sort of like historical fiction.
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on April 23, 2015
Eiji Yoshikawa is one author, while very famous in Japan, with little exposure in the West. I've read both Musashi and Taiko and they're both very enthralling reads despite being 1000+ pages each. The Tale of the Heike is no exception. He recounts the fascinating tale of the fall of the once-powerful Fujiwara clan that helped shaped medieval Japanese politics.

Unfortunately, translations of Yoshikawa's works are few, considering many of his works are quite extensive and requires in-depth knowledge of Japanese (and some Chinese) culture.

I docked one star out because the preface did state that this translation is abridged. They count out some parts for some reason or another. Frankly I think this does the work a great disservice as Yoshikawa was famous for his profound and intricate story-lines.
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on August 1, 2008
This is not a translation of the mediaeval classic of the same name, but a modern novel based on its core events, namely the rise to power and fall of Taira Kiyomori and his clan, also known as the Heike.
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on January 12, 2004
This is another great book by Yoshikawa and would recommend to any readers interested in Japanese history and warfare.
Some readers may not like the translation. Many words have been translated into their actual meanings, e.g. "sushi" to "rice ball"; "sake" to "wine"; "geisha" to "dancing girls" etc., instead of throwing in well known Japanese terms. But I don't find this a problem, the translator was being consistent all the way.
The translation is, however, weak in the explanation of titles and posts, e.g. "General of the Imperial Guards" = "Shogun?"; "Minister of the Left"; "Councilor". If the tranlation had included an appendix for the titles and posts, it will surely make the book a more enjoyable read.
Notwithstanding, I don't think readers will require much knowledge regarding Japanese culture and history to enjoy this book.
Hope to see more books by Yoshikawa translated into English. Will be nice to have "Yoritomo of the Genji" translated into English too, it being a companion book for "The Heike Story" and continues the story to the creation of the Kamakura Shogunate.
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on September 19, 2013
I read Musashi a few years ago, and then just recently read Taiko, and I loved them both. I really enjoyed Taiko because it helped me understand an important time in Japanese history through a compelling story. The best part of it was the really well-developed characters of Hideyoshi and Nobunaga, and to a lesser extent Tokugawa Ieyasu.

I was hoping for the same from Heike Story and was sadly disappointed. The book doesn't explain how Kiyomori comes into or maintains his power. The book starts out with him as a child living in destitute poverty and being a low-ranking guard for the emperor. Then the book literally skips several years of Kiyomori's life and says something to the effect of "Now that Kiyomori was rich and influential . . ." It doesn't explain who the Heike, Genji, or Fujikawa are, why they were constantly fighting, their relationship with the Imperial family, or the structure of the Japanese government at the time. The characters aren't very well developed, there are only a few truly memorable scenes, and the plot seems to jump around without any real direction (it gets slightly more purposeful towards the end of the book).

On top of that, though it's always difficult to tell without having read the original, I don't think the translation is very good. Very stilted prose and inorganic diction. Also, the translator fails to mention at the beginning that Yoshikawa wasn't finished with the book, so it ends really abruptly and leaves a lot of issues unresolved.

Maybe worth the read if you're a Yoshikawa fan and Japanophile like myself, but overall a disappointment.
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on May 11, 2014
Not the usual Yoshikawa novel like Taiko or Musashi.
I'm still reading waiting for some action which I doubt will ever arrive.
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