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The Tale of Genji (Penguin Classics) Hardcover – Box set, October 15, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Hardcover: 1200 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (October 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670030201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670030200
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 6.6 x 3.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Widely recognized as the world's first novel, as well as one of its best, the 11th-century tale of Genji the shining prince has been painstakingly and tenderly translated by Tyler, a retired professor of Japanese language and literature. Genji, the son of an emperor by one of his "Intimates" and preternaturally blessed with beauty and charm, is the center of this two-volume opus though he and his heroine die some two-thirds into the book which details both his political fortunes and his many amorous adventures. Chronicling some 75 years of court life with a dizzyingly large cast of characters, it is an epic narrative; it is also minutely attentive to particulars of character, setting, emotion even costume. While two complete English translations exist (Arthur Waley's of 1933 and Edward Seidensticker's of 1976), Tyler clearly intends his to be the definitive one. It is richer, fuller and more complicated than the others indeed, Tyler's fidelity to the bygone Japanese custom of not writing proper names can sometimes make it difficult, for example, to determine which of Genji's myriad lovers he is thinking about. Unlike Waley's translation, Tyler's is unexpurgated; unlike Seidensticker's, his is heavily annotated. New line drawings of Japanese architecture and activity complement the text, while character lists at chapter beginnings, a plot summary at the conclusion and two glossaries one of offices and titles, the other of general terms orient the reader in a multigenerational and unfamiliar world. Tyler's formality of tone (contrast Seidensticker's anachronistic "He could see her point" to Tyler's simple "He sympathized") offers readers a more graceful, convincing rendering of this 1,000-year-old masterpiece. Scholars and novices alike should be pleased. 6-city translator tour. (Oct. 15)Forecast: This massive project involved a whole team at Viking (see PW Interview with editor Wendy Wolf, Aug. 20). The 20,000-copy first printing may seem ambitious, but the attractive boxed edition and landmark translation effort should convince a substantial number of readers to finally add this classic to their collections.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Written in the 11th century, Lady Murasaki's account of court life in Heian Japan stands as one of the undisputed monuments of world literature and one of the first novels in the modern sense of the term. Stretching over several generations, it focuses on the Shining Prince, his defendants, and their shifting fortunes. Much of the substance of the novel resides in the layers and subtle nuances of etiquette, gesture, and ritual. There are two previous English translations available in both full and abridged forms, Arthur Waley's (1933) and Edward Seidensticker's (1976). Waley's efforts are groundbreaking, though they distort the work's form and make Genji into an Edwardian gentleman. Seidensticker's translation is solid, though it often simplifies the syntax. Tyler, who taught Japanese language and literature for many years at the Australian National University, offers a version that effectively captures the indirection and shades of Murasaki's court language. Tyler also includes a series of appendixes, explaining clothing, colors, and poetic allusions, as well as a general glossary. A major contribution to our understanding of world literature; highly recommended. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Which makes this translation good for students and classroom study.
Jadepearl
For me personally it is simply the best novel I have read and I recommend this translation without any reservations.
A Lump Of Green Slime
It seemed like the kind of novel you read because you should, not because it's fun.
Emily Horner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 107 people found the following review helpful By Wabi Savvy on September 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A longtime admirer of Murasaki Shikibu's exceptional work, I fell in love with Genji first through Arthur Waley's translation, which made this admittedly exotic novel accessible to non-Japanese readers. Curious to know more about the Heian period and culture, I acquired Ivan Morris's tremendously helpful and readable "The World of the Shining Prince." Then I discovered Edward Seidensticker's superb rendering of "The Tale of Genji," and have read and re-read that version with deepening understanding and enjoyment. Seidensticker, while presumably adhering closer to the language of the original (which even modern Japanese find difficult to read), gave us a translation which is perfumed by the sensuous beauty of what must have been a truly refined and special time and place (albeit a very limited one).
Now comes Royall Tyler's superb effort, which comes with myriad and very helpful details: each chapter starts with an explanation of the chapter title, how the section relates to previous chapters and the cast of characters. There are also generous appendices including a chronology of events in the novel and a glossary. Line drawings throughout the two volumes (also present in Seidensticker) provide helpful visual clues as to dress and architecture. Tyler's effort seems even closer to the original language, and thereby lies the problem.
This version unnecessarily burdens the reader with ever-changing nomenclature. Since in the original characters are known by their rank-names, and Tyler (mostly) adheres to this usage, the reader is challenged to keep up with the changes. Put the book down for a day or two and you will feel quite lost for several minutes when you restart.
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130 of 137 people found the following review helpful By A Lump Of Green Slime on November 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
If you are reading this it is probably because you have enjoyed Liza Dalby's "Tale of Murasaki" and are wondering if you can handle something of this size. Or perhaps you are already familiar with the scintillating Waley or Seidensticker translations (also worth acquiring and reading) and curious as to why Tyler has even bothered to produce another one. In fact, even in Japan there have been several recent attempts to render the obscure language of the Heian Court into modern Japanese. Junichiro Tanizaki, for example, managed the feat twice. With such a precedent Tyler therefore, perhaps, needs no justification. Anyway, what you need to know is that the new translation surpasses Seidensticker's in being faithful to the poetic economy of Murasaki's prose (though "economy" here still leaves room for some marvellously glutinous, clause-laden sentences) and even succeeds in maintaining the shifting identities of the characters (which change when they receive promotion within the court) without leaving the reader lost. There are also some wonderful and irreverent moments, such as when Tyler has the libidinous Genji complain "I'm not out for hanky panky; all I want to do is sit for a while on her creaky veranda." But the main thing is that this translation is utterly absorbing, wonderfully readable, and as difficult to put down as many a bestselling novel I have come across. It will guarantee around two months of enjoyment to those who like a good psychological story and therefore represents excellent value, even in hardback. For me personally it is simply the best novel I have read and I recommend this translation without any reservations.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Merrily Baird on July 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the late 1960s, I had the good fortune to be at the University of Michigan while Edward Seidensticker was both teaching there and working on his translation of the "Tale of Genji." Like the other graduate students in Japanese Studies, I spent countless hours listening to Seidentsticker sing the praises of this literary classic and discuss the complexities of trying to translate it. I came away from that experience with a lifelong interest in Heian-period (794-1185) literature and a conviction that no Westerner would ever be ambitious and talented enough to better Seidensticker's work. That conviction, however, has now been upset by Royall Tyler, the Australian professor whose own translation debuted last year.
There are many reasons to acquire and read this newest translation of the "Genji," even if, and possibly particularly if, you already have the Seidensticker version. One is that the classical Japanese language of poetry and prose was so highly allusive. It had numerous layers of meaning, a phenomenon that has allowed and indeed led translators to render it with different emphases in mood and meaning. These layered meanings pose a particular challenge for the translator who seeks to find economical ways of rendering the Japanese into English while preserving the spirit of what the Heian-period reader would have taken from the original. This challenge Tyler has dealt with exceptional success.
Another significant reason for acquiring and carefully poring over Tyler's new rendering of "The Genji" is the array of aids that he provides for reading a novel of such length and complexity. Each chapter opens with a brief description of how it relates to earlier portions of the text as well as a list of the characters involved.
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