The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan
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The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  254 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Kagero Nikki, translated here as The Gossamer Years, belongs to the same period as the celebrated Tale of Genji. This frank autobiographical diary reveals two tempestuous decades of the author's unhappy marriage and her growing indignation at rival wives and mistresses. Too impetuous to be satisfied as a subsidiary wife, this beautiful noblewoman of the Heian dynasty prote...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 15th 1989 by Tuttle Publishing (first published 974)
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Wendy
A portrait of clinical depression and passive aggressive marital tactics in Heian Japan. The Heian taste for self-pity, also a feature of The Tale of Genji, is somewhat hard to take, but seems to be part of the aesthetic package. I wish there were another translation of this book, as Seidensticker's comparison of his own variants with a "literal translation" made me wish for a literal translation of the whole book. I also disliked his translation of Genji. But the author comes through, if rather...more
Megan
This is a real diary. I read it for a college class, and except for the professor and one friend, everyone thought the woman was whiny. She wasn't- she was just trying to be happy within the confines of her status and society. I thought it was amazing.
umberto
Again, I thought I'd never read this seemingly outdated diary written by a Noblewoman of Heian Japan in the span of 21 years, that is, from 954-974. However, having read "The Tale of Genji," I decided to have a go with this formidable diary because it "belongs to the same period as the celebrated Tale of Genji" and it "offers a timeless and intimate glimpse into the culture of ancient Japan." (back page)

Reading this fine translation by Edward Seidensticker is, I think, worth spending our time si...more
SillySuzy
Autobiographical diary. Book One covers 15 years (954-968), Book Two three years (969-971) and Book Three also three years (972-974). Probably written from 971 onwards.

This was a very special book to read. It is amazing to think that it was written as long ago as 971. And how complicated life was in Japan back then. You had to communicate by way of cryptic poems and there was an elaborate, totally incomprehensible system of forbidden directions, punishments, defilements, penances and pilgrimages...more
Jewel
Ok, so I've finished another Japanese I-novel. From the three I've read I'll categorize them like this: Sarashina no Nikki < The Confessions of Lady Nijo < The Gossamer Years. Note, Nijo was written in a close, but different period of Japan's history.

In attempt to not spoil anything I will say that this is a much more vivid account of Heian Japan in comparison to Sarashina no Nikki. The author here (not Seidensticker, he's the translator) though related to Lady Sarashina, is a superior wri...more
Jenna
This book is an autobiography of sorts. It is more akin to a narrative than it is to a diary or journal because it is only separated in terms of years. It's like she is reflecting on the past year rather than recording events as they happen. Because of this it is easy to get into, especially since there is a drama going on between her and her neglectful husband. This is probably the entire reason she started to write about her life. This is also the reason I read it, because I am writing a paper...more
Liz Henry
This was ok, but not great. Rituals, festivals, and temple visits. Unhappy (secondary?) marriage to a prince. Poems exchanged. Lots of whining. I can't really like the diarist. I feel bad for her that she is super depressed all the time, and yet she seems like a pain in the ass and seems so proud of herself when she acts like an ass.
Eadweard
Not as amusing as The Pillow Book, but not bad in any case, it's worth reading.

While Sei Shonagon's writings dealt more with court life and were full of anecdotes and lists of things she liked/disliked, this lady's diary didn't really have any of that. Most of it was made up of recordings of her marital life, the constant bickering and the back and forth letters and poems between them. Shonagon lived at the court with the Empress and didn't seem to venture much into the real world, this woman l...more
Claire
Technically non-fiction because it's a diary, I found this title quite sad in contrast to the irreverent 'Pillow Book'. The author, who we do not know but have an inkling of who she may be, is living a sad life. Her lover never visits her, her son is growing up very quickly and a pesky upper class man keeps trying to marry a small girl who seems to be in her care.

While still a very interesting look at life in Heian Japan, this is absolutely filled with puns, references and poetry that the trans...more
Kristi
This was okay, though not as fascinating and readable for me as Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. The introduction by Seidensticker is definitely dated, as whoever checked out my copy before me noted several times in the margins. I think I'd like to read a more recent translation of this to see if my opinion changes. Yes, the author is self-centered and whiny and her complaints got old fairly quickly, but the fact that her diary is so very open and personal shows the hardships that underlie even the m...more
Adam
A noblewoman of Heian Japan gets taken on as a second wife. She perpetually feels unloved and alone and spends year after year in deepening depression, quietly bemoaning her fate, being ignored by her husband while dragging herself on. It's a strange era: everybody writes allusive poetry to each other all the time, people may only travel in certain directions each day, and people have to stay alone in their houses for days during periods of cleansing. It's all social strictures, ceremony and sur...more
Tina Dalton
Written around 1000 AD, this diary of a Heian noblewoman shares the story of her life as the second wife to a busy court official. Her comments form an insightful and eye-opening view of the marriage rituals of her time. For example, her husband did not live with her but maintained a visiting statues. She seemed crave his attention and was never satisified with the little time he could spare her. I read this book for a paper I wrote on the marriage practices of Heian Japan.
Elizabeth Reuter
Couldn't put it down. A brutally honest look at being a woman living a closeted life with no certainty in her future. Many readers will find her unsympathetic, but I don't think the book should be judged by that. Rather Gossamer Years is fascinating for its honesty about human nature, showing how weak humans can be in the face of certain challenges, and for what it shows us about a culture long gone.
Louise
I'm going to come back and say something more intelligent eventually, but the thing that is most striking about this group of womens writings from Heian Japan is how clearly they show how little people have changed in the intervening years. This one is particularly hilarious, often sounding like a contemporary soap opera, with all of its inrerpersonal politics, gossip, and clothes fetishes.
Rebecca Bugge
A diary/memoirs written by a woman who is known today as "the mother of Michitsuna", commenting on her rather confined life and unhappy marriage (she is the second wife and does not live with her husband). It was written in the 790's in a world quite different from ours by not the most likeable of persons - but what she lacks in likeability she makes up for in personality.
Kait
Read this one for my Japan to 1600 course. It is very informative about life in Heian Period Japan. This text is also one of the first examples of a woman's diary from this time. It was an interesting read though it did take some patience to get through (lots of footnotes to read).
Cory
A diary of a strong Japanese noblewoman poet in an unhappy marriage. Love learning about other cultures this way, through reading accounts of day-to-day life. Wish there was more historical info about the author. Beautiful book.
Sydney
Aug 26, 2013 Sydney added it
Read this after Sansom mentioned it in his History to 1334. Loved the peek inside the inner life of an ancient woman stuck in an unhappy marriage. Relatable all these centuries later!
Joy
The endnotes are too numerous to be flipping back and forth all the time- they should be footnote! Dense, too- towards the end, I started losing interest and began skimming.
Vanessa
I only read the first 82 pages of this. Historically important, perhaps, but I found it tedious and ultimately couldn't continue with it.
Amber
Read this for a history class in college, but I keep coming back to it. Some, but not most, sentiments transcend culture.
Emily
Its a classic that gives great insight into the inner world of an Heian period woman
S
Feb 26, 2009 S marked it as to-read
The Gossamer Diary (Kagerō nikki)
Murasaki diary
Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan
Molly
I really enjoyed this novel. I am fascinated by the Heian period. Very early chick lit!
Laura
Had to read this for a history class.
Judith
Judith marked it as to-read
Jul 31, 2014
Pooja Chavan
Pooja Chavan marked it as to-read
Jul 31, 2014
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