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The Tale of Genji (Vintage International) Paperback – Abridged, June 16, 1990

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (June 16, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679729534
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679729532
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Widely acknowledged as the world's first novel, this astonishingly lovely book was written by a court lady in Heian Japan and offers a window into that formal, mannered world. Genji, a man of passionate impulses and a lover of beauty, is the favorite son of the Emperor, though his position at court is not entirely stable. He follows his wayward longings through moonlight-soaked gardens and jeweled pavilions, with mysterious women such as the Lady of the Orange Blossoms, the Akashi lady, and his own father's Empress. This version is translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, who has translated a number of other great Japanese writers such as Mishima and Kawabata.


"Not only the world's first real novel, but one of its greatest."

-- Donald Keene, Columbia University"A. triumph of authenticity and readability."

-- Washington Post Book World

"[Seidensticker's] translation has the ring of authority."

-- The New York Times Book Review

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 106 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
There is such a different tone to each of the translations. The sparse phrasing of Seidensticker's may be nearer to the original and from the point of view of following the plot it is certainly easier but Arthur Waley's translation is altogether more beautiful. In fact you become so mesmerized with the delicate description of the physical and the emotional that you fall prey to a kind of love affair with the book that Genji himself would have no difficulty understanding. The story is as much about each of the women as it is about Genji. Reviewers who have labelled Genji a playboy have completely missed the point; playboys are by definition carefree and non-suffering. In contrast it is the very fine nature of Genji's temperament and the intensity of his emotional attachments that lay him open to experience the most painful awarenesses. Moreover he is quite unable to banish past episodes from his consciousness or his conscience. Sexual attraction serves largely as a catalyst to romantic adoration rather than as a goal in its own right. If you study the range of language employed by Waley you will empower yourself with a vast arsenal of English phrasing. It is unlikely that any other book offers more from this point of view and I'm including here Proust, Joyce and the Bible. To the western reader it is an opening to a sensibility that many do not associate with Asia. To the Japanese student who has reached a high level of English a careful reading of Genji would be worth more than all the vocabulary books on the market. To both of them though, it would be a nourishing of their consciousness and although this undoubtedly leads to a multiplication of pleasure, it will also lead to a corresponding potential to contact with pain. Such is life and therefore I give to this work of art the greatest accolade, it captures something true, and beautiful. If you should find seidenstecker too matter of fact just try Arthur Waley, it is a matter of art.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By bryan12603 on November 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a review of the abridged translation of The Tale of Genji by Edward G. Seidensticker.

The Tale of Genji was written in the 11th century by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, and its story is set in the same period. It is universally considered THE great Japanese traditional novel, and one of the greatest works of world literature.

Seidensticker's abridged translation is about one-quarter as long as the complete work, and includes chapters 1, 4-5, 7-14 and 17. These chapters hang together fairly well as a self-contained narrative that gives a flavor for the complete work. The story begins with the lady of the Paulownia Court, a kind and refined woman with whom the Emperor falls in love. Because she lacks support at court, she is hounded to death by those jealous of her, including Kokiden, the Emperor's wife. But before she dies she gives birth to the Emperor's son, Genji. Since, like his mother, he lacks influential relatives at court, the Emperor keeps him a commoner (and hence ineligible to become Emperor). But from his childhood, Genji's beauty, elegance, artistry and aesthetic sensibility leaves others awestruck, and frequently in love with him. In the period of the novel, upper-class people occupied themselves primarily with poetry composition, painting, ritual activities and romantic affairs. These affairs were largely tolerated, as long as they were conducted discreetly. Much of the novel is taken up with Genji's affairs, which lead him into near-disaster more than once. Eventually, he is discovered in the apartments of Oborozukiyo, sister of Kokiden. Genji might have gotten away with this under his father's reign, but by this time his father has been succeeded by the Suzaku Emperor, who is largely controlled by his mother, Kokiden.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David P Oller on October 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
It's amazing how so many of the people writing negative reviews on this book are focused on what they see as moral or philosophical content.
They seem to miss the fact that Lady Murasaki was writing in the context of the society at that time, and exploring those same moral conflicts within the reality of both society and individual consciousness. Genji is not a hero placed on a pedestal, Murasaki examines him in the most honest way, showing both the good and the bad, the beauty and the beast; and that's what makes it such a great novel. It has integrity of subject rarely seen in our modern formulas and Hollywood endings.
In modern texts the writing formulas is a hero who goes through a series of climaxes, culminating in a victory or defeat where the protagonist discovers something about themselves, but with Genji, the reader discovers something about themselves, and maybe that's too disturbing for some people.
In addition, it passes on an abundance of information on Japanese history and culture of the Heian area. It is a significant work relating to the Japanese Incense Ceremony called Kodo, of which today the most famous game is called "Genji Koh" or "Incense of the Genji."
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By antirealist on November 9, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This does appear to be the unabridged Seidensticker translation, and it's great to finally have a full Genji for the kindle. But the conversion to Kindle format seems to be flawed. The formatting metadata (chapter titles, notes etc) appear as part of the text. For example, <K 1>[Japanese Volume]<C 1>[The Pawlonia Court], etc. This ebook needs to be withdrawn and reformatted.
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