Joni's Reviews > The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
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's review
Dec 23, 2011

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bookshelves: japanese-literature

This is a Japanese woman's diary written a thousand years ago. It's a random collection of thoughts, lists, stories and poems from a time and place completely different to ours. Even Japanese natives have trouble reading it; it's kinda tiresome, unstructured and constantly refers to obscure customs of long ago. But it's undeniably a thing of the highest beauty, and a fascinating view into another human being's life that has almost nothing in common with yours.

In each little chapter you learn a little more about Sei Shonagon and soon develop a fondness for her. She writes endearing lists of things she likes and doesn't like, shares gossip about goings-on around the palace, and describes the natural world in her poems with a delicate sense of wonder. I found myself relating to her surprisingly often - I also hate when I can hear mosquitoes as I'm trying to fall asleep, I also love watching sunsets and I've tiptoed out of lovers' houses in the morning in much the same way she describes. But to understand this book completely (unless you're a Japanese history buff) you'd have be always referring to the helpful 500-some footnotes at the back of the book. I chose to mostly forgo this so as not to disrupt the flow of the text - probably the right decision, since The Pillow Book has endured for a millenium on the strength of Shonagon's choice of words.
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