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The Tale of Genji

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  7,355 Ratings  ·  625 Reviews
See an alternate cover edition here .

Written in the eleventh century, this portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world's first novel. The Tale of Genji is a very long romance, running to fifty-four chapters and describing the court life of Heian Japan, from the tenth century into the eleventh.
Paperback, Deluxe Edition, 1182 pages
Published April 24th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1021)
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Akemi G Japan has a long history. The Tale Of Genji was written in early 1000's, set in late 900's (recent past for them). It was a time of relative peace.…moreJapan has a long history. The Tale Of Genji was written in early 1000's, set in late 900's (recent past for them). It was a time of relative peace. Genji probably never killed even a squirrel.

The warrior class rose to political power later. This doesn't mean there were no wars and battles earlier--there were. However, the warriors in the early time were employed by aristocrats. The rise of the warrior class is depicted well in The Tale Of The Heike, which is based on historical events in late 1100's. Their time continued until the late 1800's. (less)
Megan Fellows Personally, I like Tyler's, but I think the only way to know is to read all of them! I haven't read the new Washburn translation yet, so I can't give…morePersonally, I like Tyler's, but I think the only way to know is to read all of them! I haven't read the new Washburn translation yet, so I can't give my opinion on that one.

In any case, Tyler's has the most extensive notes and is probably the most faithful to the original. Waley leaves out chapters and was doing more writing than translating (so in many ways his is the most lyrical). Seidensticker strikes a nice balance between the two, though you should know that he has two versions, one of which is abridged.

I totally recommend Ivan Morris's The World of the Shining Prince as a companion to whichever version you read.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Aug 26, 2014 Hadrian added it
Shelves: epic, fiction, japan

Artist: Toshiaki Kato

Without stories like these about the old days, though, how would we ever pass the time when there is nothing else to do? Besides, among these lies there are certainly some plausibly touching scenes, convincingly told; and yes, we know they are fictions, but even so we are moved and half drawn for no real reason to the pretty, suffering heroine. We may disbelieve the blatantly impossible but still be amazed by magnificently contrived wonders, and although these pall on quiet,
The person who convinced me to read this is no longer on Goodreads, so I cannot tell you what meanings I thought I would discover within this work. Even the collective 'meanings' is a poor word choice, because my relationship with literature is one to which only the pair of mentor and mentee of the male variety has claim in the bowels of history and pop culture. It is my lot to be mentee to a few of the living and far more of the dead of various forms and nationalities; the only commonality is ...more
Aug 12, 2013 Deborah rated it liked it
Shelves: want-to-buy, library
I simply cannot believe this book is celebrating it's 1000th anniversary this year. The characters are so complex, with such a human range of emotions. There are so many characters, yet each one is unique. She has so calculatedly dialed in each character, subtly conveying how close they come to her view of perfection - Murasaki being at the top of this, and (in my opinion) Niou and others being at the bottom.
It is so easy to see how this book still influences literary styles in Japan today... t
Huda Yahya

كل من قرأ كافكا على الشاطىء قد واتته غالباً رغبة شديدة في قراءة سيرة الأمير جينجي
التي كان يلتهمها كافكا الصغير في المكتبة العامة اليابنية

مراساكي شيبوكو هو الإسم الذي عُرفت به المؤلفة و ليس إسمها الحقيقي
وقد عاشت عمرها في البلاط الإمبراطوري وروت مما عايشته فانتازيا مذهلة تشابه ألف ليلة وليلة العربيةالتي ربما لا يعرف أغلب كتاب العالم سواها عن أدبنا العربي
حتى أن أنيس منصور عندما سأل الكاتب سومرست موم عما قرأه من الأدب العربي أجاب ألف ليلة وليلة فقط
مما أدى بالعقاد إلى غضب شديد
والإشارة بأنه رجل جاهل
Jun 17, 2009 Nozomi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sigmund Freud
Shelves: own, japan
Oh yes, I totally want to read about all the affairs Genji, the "shining" prince, had with dozens of other women. Not to mention most of these women looked like his mother in some way or another. (Freud would be esctatic.) One of these women wasn't even a woman at all, but a small child he pretty much abducted. Of course, this young girl looked like his mother.

The fact that this is the first true psychological novel in the world is interesting, it really is. But just because it is so doesn't mea
Apr 15, 2009 Smenkhare rated it did not like it
i hate this book only a little less than i hate 'twilight'. the historical and literary significances are really impressive (it was the first novel written - and by a woman, for that matter), and it's the source of pretty much everything we currently know about heian court life, but genji is the wimpiest, rapiest protagonist ever. he is literally so mind-crushingly whiny, childish and just plain unlikeable that in my opinion, he ruins what is otherwise a pretty compelling story.

also, he rapes mo
Dec 13, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: worldliterature
Arguably the first novel ever written (using a modern definition of novel), and at the very least the first novel written by a woman, this essential work traces the life of a prince in medieval (Heian) Japan. The novel is intensely psychological and manages to very consistently portray the lives of hundreds of individuals across half a century or more. Aside from the insight the novel provides into the extremely rarified culture of the Japanese court in the middle ages, a reader comes away from ...more
Amanda Spacaj-Gorham
This novel is a challenge on many levels. The biggest challenge of all is not resenting (or even despising) Genji himself. It is best read in conjunction with "The World of the Shining Prince" by Ivan Morris to understand the environment(1,000 years ago at the end of the Heian Period). Also read the Diary of Lady Murasaki. I wouldn't bother taking on 1,090 pages of Genji without the assistance of these works, which are much easier to digest.

Also read ALL the footnotes. When this book was writte
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
"The Tale of Genji is a novel written by an aristocratic woman for other women of her rank -- men at this time read history and poetry, sometimes theology, but not fiction -- which presents the first challenge to reading it. It wasn't written for you, dear reader, but for select contemporaries who instinctively understood everything that now needs to be spelled out in annotations and commentary. . . . The modern reader doesn't so much listen to the story as eavesdrop on it, spy on it, like the c ...more
I went to the library and compared the Whaley, Seidensticker, and Royall Tyler translations and for me it was no contest. Tyler's which is the newest is by far the easiest to read and has a more friendly page layout, not crammed like Whaley's. If you're going to read a book this long (the unabridged version) of a thousand pages or more, then fatigue avoidance is a key consideration. I did this same process at the library comparing versions of Tolstoy's War and Peace, and glad I did too. It no ...more
Nov 29, 2014 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
La poésie veut quelque chose d'énorme de barbare et de sauvage.
(Poetry craves something enormous, barbarous and wild).

I would much rather meet Murasaki than I would the quirky and observant Sei Shonagon or the sexually charged, emotionally volatile, religiously inspired Nijo, fun though those two might be, as the more substantive woman of the tradition. It would take some time breaking down her barriers, but once through them the culture she'd impart would be tremendous. I know I am of a
Turns out "Genji"'s not the little dog. Huh.

I guess the big lesson here is that it really matters what translation you get of a thousand-year-old Japanese novel. The one published by Tuttle Classics, translated by Kencho Suematsu, is terrible. At first, I figured, hey, thousand-year-old Japanese. Going to be turgid. But then, I noticed, the footnotes couldn't write their collective way out of a paper bag either:

"Sasinuki is a sort of loose trousers, and properly worn by men only, hence some comm
Aug 15, 2013 umberto rated it liked it
Shelves: classics, japan
This epic-like Japanese novel is, of course, quite lengthy (54 Chapters, 1120 pages) and thus reading it would take your time and concentration. I thought I would never finish reading it but, after my visit to Japan for a week last April, I decided to resume reading it mixed with boredom and enjoyment.

This novel written by a court lady in the 11th century has been depicted on various, innumerable noble characters with illustrious noble titles unfamiliar to, I think, most of its readers outside J
Richard Derus
Sep 10, 2016 Richard Derus rated it it was amazing
Rating: 5* of five

This review at A Dribble of Ink says more about why Genji matters than I can ever do.

I read the book in 1974. I got a hardcover Modern Library edition from my decade-older sister, who owned a bookstore. I read it in one solid week of enchantment, followed by a year of revisits and studies of the notes and other references. (The librarians at my high school agreed with the kids who teased me for being weird.)

This is a new translation, I have a copy, but many chunksters await my
Akemi G
Mar 28, 2016 Akemi G rated it it was amazing
The world's very first, and possibly still the BEST, novel written by a Japanese woman! How can I not recommend this?

It was written in the early 1000's (impossible to pinpoint the year because it was written and released over many years), primarily for the court ladies. I have read several versions of modern Japanese translation, part of the original text, and I have a copy of the Tyler translation, which I use more as a reference. I have not read other English translations, but I can say Tyler
Jul 09, 2016 Sookie rated it liked it
During the course of reading A tale of Genji, a lot of jidaigeki (period Japanese drama) thta I have watched in the past decade suddenly started to make sense. And, of course, a part of Japanese culture in itself is deeply rooted in these timeless stories.

The book is written by a woman of noble class written for women of her own class. The writing is inviting, intimate and is almost like sharing a secret. Shikibu-san employs subtlety, metaphors and euphemisms to drive home a point; its both frus
Elizabeth Reuter
Genji is a literary snapshot of life in Japan over 1,000 years ago. Following Prince Genji, a handsome and accomplished courtier who the author pictured as an ideal man, the book tells us of his rise through court life, often diverting to cover his many romances and the lives of people around him.

Lady Murasaki's work is remembered because, in my opinion, of her extraordinary insight into human nature. DO NOT read this book looking for heroes; you'll find characters you relate to, but everyone is
Ann Klefstad
Dec 08, 2008 Ann Klefstad rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure if this is the translation I have (would have to root through the shelves) but the book itself is a wonder. It's a whole planet, so far away and yet full of breath and blood perceivable even at this palpable distance. What a passionate intelligence Murasaki had, and what discipline to go with it--as a writer she knew when to hold tight and when to cut and run, and she doesn't seem to waste a lot of time. As this is the very first thing anywhere in the world in its genre, she made ...more
Justin Evans
Jul 19, 2016 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Utterly meaningless star rating alert: what else could you give it?

Now, granted, I suspect a lot of readers are just like me, in that we'll go hunting for really good things about this book, even if, on the surface, it perhaps does less for us than most 1400 page medieval tales. And I'm not afraid to admit that the overwhelming impression I have now is that this is astonishingly long, and astonishingly old, and despite those two things is easily readable as what we today call a novel.

The probl
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Sep 11, 2011 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Those Interested in Japanese Culture
This is a work I've often seen named as the first novel, as well as a work that the introduction claims greatly influenced and embodies the Japanese culture--and this by a women writer. Not many undeniably great classics, especially this old, can claim female authorship, and this one was written around the turn of the first millennium, when Europe was just emerging from the Dark Ages. The Tale of the Genji, the product of a sophisticated court, is thus close in age to Beowulf, and by and large, ...more
May 30, 2011 Gary rated it liked it
Shelves: japanese
This very long and very old book was written 1,000 years ago during the famous Heian period of Japan. Without turning all geeky and writing out a no-doubt poorly understood bit of history, it’s sufficient to say that this was, like many periods of history, a time of astonishing beauty and artistic achievement yet also absurdly dangerous, unhealthy and exploitative. It’s well worth reading up about it on the Internet because you will be enamoured.

This book is unusual for those in the West because
Jul 04, 2016 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japanese
You know, this book is a lot of things (what 1000+ pager isn’t) but it’s nothing if not truthful. The character of Genji can be summed up in four totally accurate lines from the book:

“Genji felt like a child thief. The role amused him.”

“Difficult and unconventional relationships always interested him.”

“Self-loathing was not enough to overcome temptation.”

“Genji’s troubles, which he had brought upon himself, were nothing new.”

Genji is a total pedophile. Once, in true pervert style, he grooms a li
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Steven Moore reviews the latest Genji=translation, this one by Washburn ::

"‘The Tale of Genji’: The work of a brilliant widow 1,000 years ago" (19 August 2015)

"It is questionable, however, whether a new English translation is needed. It was only 14 years ago that Royall Tyler published his superb translation, more faithful to the original than Edward Seidensticker’s of 1976 , which was considerably more faithful than Arthur Waley’s published 50 years earli
Born to an official of the court, the book's author would have lived and interacted with the aristocrats, princes and ladies-in-waiting that make up this tale. As a result, the book provides a vast amount of insight into the courtly life and behavior of the Heian era ruling class, the way they addressed each other, their daily rituals, their festivals, religious events... etc.

Most chapters are episodic and the book could roughly be divided in two parts; the first one dealing with the life of Gen
May 11, 2009 Kate rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Trying again now that fog is lifting. So far I have made far more progress.

This isn't fast going, but I can say that, about 1/4 of the way through the 1100 or so pages of this version (attractively bound in paperback by Penguin), it has already been worth the $28.

Ok, I give up.

Here is why I gave up. I defy anyone to continue reading this book with a straight face after reading what a collegue, The Twisted Genius Known As D Hawk, sent me on Friday:

TwitLit Insider: Japanese Classic The Tale of Gen
Mar 30, 2011 Miranda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So I finally finished The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu and I would just like you to all know that I HATED it. I definitely would not give it a place in my top 10 greatest novels of all time. I don't care if it is an 11th Century novel that revolutionized the genre by being the first novel to include feelings, and thoughts. It's horrible.


1)It has no point. The book basically follows Prince Genji throughout the course of his life and his many loves. The journey through these many loves do
May 27, 2015 Squire rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of world literature
A book that was intimidating at first, with it's massiveness and heavily foot-noted nature. It looked more like a textbook than a novel and I, being a slow reader, wasn't certain I'd be able to get through it be fore year's end. But, as is usually the case, my patience and persistence was rewarded with an unusually engrossing reading experience that (along with The Tale of the Heike) has made 2015 one of the best years of reading I've had in a long while.

An 11th century Japanese novel that cele
Mark Sacha
The sphere of Genji is the incredibly narrow one of Japan's Classical aristocracy, and its being situated in a period of long stability means that although temporally it covers a fair bit of ground (four generations) it is otherwise restricted socially, geographically, politically. Psychologically it is more diverse, and strikingly so in comparison to European literature of even several hundred years later - consider the Icelandic sagas, which are far greater in scope and yet almost entirely dev ...more
Phillip Kay
Apr 14, 2013 Phillip Kay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So much has been said about Genji Monogatari: some say it is the world's first novel; others, the greatest novel ever written; others again an incomparable source of information on Heian Japan. For some it is a satire, for others a great love story. All these are probably true, but it depends on your point of view, culture and even your sex as to how true.

My reading showed me that it is one of the greatest of autobiographies. For me, Murasaki, whose own name we do not even know, is the true hero
May 28, 2009 Toshio rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who know Japanese but can't yet read this book in Japanese.
This edition focuses more on scholarship and language than it needs to, and risks making the translator's work, difficult in the best of times, all to visible to the reader. It's almost as though Roayll Tyler's saying, "This beast of a novel from a thousand years ago is too impossible for a western reader to understand, so I'll footnote and explain everything."

While many reviews tout this edition as more "user friendly" than the previous edition, the writing is just not very good. Royall Tyler,
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  • The Pillow Book
  • The Tale of the Heike
  • Anthology of Japanese Literature: From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century
  • The Recognition of Śakuntalā
  • As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan
  • The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan
  • The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan
  • The Confessions of Lady Nijō
  • The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches
  • The Sound of the Mountain
  • Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Gate
  • The Wild Geese
  • Five Women Who Loved Love: Amorous Tales from 17th-Century Japan
  • One Hundred Leaves: A new annotated translation of the Hyakunin Isshu
  • Kappa
Murasaki Shikibu, or Lady Murasaki as she is sometimes known in English, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and a maid of honor of the imperial court during the Heian period. She is best known as the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese between about 1000 and 1008, one of the earliest and most famous novels in human history. "Murasaki Shikibu" was not her real name; her actual name is ...more
More about Murasaki Shikibu...

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“Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.” 72 likes
“There are as many sorts of women as there are women.” 34 likes
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