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The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel Paperback – August 21, 2001
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In Dalby's novel, Murasaki writes her first stories about Prince Genji's amorous encounters in order to entertain her friends, and to express her own creative temperament. As the stories gain a wider public, however, they are transformed into a conduit for observations on the mores and intrigues of court life. And in the end, as the narrator struggles to stay true to her literary vision, her tales are inflected by Buddhist thought and become parables on the transience and beauty of the world:
I have always felt compelled to set down a vision of things I have heard and seen. Life itself has never been enough. It only became real for me when I fashioned it into stories. Yet, somehow, despite all I've written, the true nature of things I've tried to grasp in my fiction still manages to drift through the words and sit, like little piles of dust, between the lines.Dalby is an anthropologist by trade, who has produced two previous nonfiction studies: Kimono and Geisha. And given that her research for Geisha gained her the distinction of being the only Westerner ever to have trained in that much misunderstood profession, it's no surprise that she is able to reconstruct 11th-century Japan with meticulous fidelity. It's all there--the political and sexual machinations, the preoccupations with clothing and custom, the difficult and tenuous position of courtiers, the intensity of female friendships in a male-dominated society--and the author shows us precisely how Murasaki's sensibilities were shaped by the culture in which she lived. This is a rich and convincing debut, and another chapter in the current resurrection of the historical novel. --Burhan Tufail --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Dalby's knowledge of the nuances of Japanese history, language, and culture is wonderfully thorough, thus bringing a deeper dimension to the fictionalized story of this amazing woman poet and author. The structure of the novel -- elegantly titled chapters interspersed with beautiful waka and images/stories from "The Tale of Genji" itself -- is quite enjoyable as well. Admittedly, Dalby's writing style sometimes becomes overly elaborate, and the sheer amount of information presented (it even spills over into footnotes) does get excessive at certain points, unfortunately bogging down the plot and characterization.
However, for every slow bit, there also exists a lovely gem -- a witty joke, perhaps, a bit of brilliant imagery, or a marvelously rendered scene. For all its weaknesses, "The Tale of Murasaki" is still a wonderful book, for the glimpse it allows us into Murasaki's impossibly beautiful, vanished Japan.
In "The Tale of Murasaki", Liza Dalby has recreated a society so completely alien to Western minds that it seems otherwordly. Yet, so vivid is this recreation that the reader is often surprised to look up at walls rather than rice-paper screens! Her descriptions of life in a society based upon the appreciation of beauty is wonderful; gardens that have been dust for a thousand years bloom again in this novel. In the Heien culture of 10th & 11th century Japan, people of the upper classes communicated in a 5-line poetry form called "waka". Dalby skillfully uses the actual waka's written by Murasaki thruout the novel to express moods & illuminate her character's motivations. She also weaves into this novel the actual diary excerpts that still exist from this mysterious woman, & does it so seamlessly that it's nearly impossible to tell where quotation ends & invention begins!
Additionally, Ms. Dalby succeeds in one of the most difficult tasks a writer faces: she successfully ages her protagonist so that the character at 37 is more thoughtful & mature than the character at 17. Many celebrated novelists fail at this, but Dalby shows us Murasaki's growth naturally & beautifully.
The only flaw this reader found is an assumed familiarity with ancient Japanese political systems & religious symbolism.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a difficult book to rate because as a piece of writing it is definitely exemplary. It describes the rich Japanese culture and customs of its in time beautifully. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Susanna Chin
I loved this book all throughout highschool. As soon as I graduated, I ordered a copy online. Heian culture and Japanese culture in general is very interesting to me. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Dana Vollkommer
The second half just keeps grinding the same stuff over and over. I couldn't finish it.Published 17 months ago by DET
I really believe this author can take you to an era of history so naturally you really feel you are there, one thousand years ago. Read morePublished 19 months ago by grasshopper
I think most modern readers who find The Tale of Genji ask themselves how much of it was rooted in fact -- how realistic it was, and how closely it resembled the actual court... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Sonia N. Simone
I met Liza Dalby when we were both graduate students at Stanford.
Her book about Lady Murasaki, the author of the famous Tale of Genji, is even more elegant and... Read more
It's a great book worth having if you have any other of Liza Dalby's books or any other books on Japan or Geisha.Published on September 15, 2013 by Fuyuume
This is one of these fictionalized autobiographies that take facts from a person's life, and fills in the gaps with whatever the author can come up with. Read morePublished on June 29, 2013 by M