The Tale of Genji

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In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world's first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is "the shining Genji," the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world ...
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The Tale of Genji

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In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world's first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is "the shining Genji," the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world and very nearly destroy him. This edition, recognized as the finest version in English, contains a dozen chapters from early in the book, carefully chosen by the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, with an introduction explaining the selection. It is illustrated throughout with woodcuts from a seventeenth-century edition.

This universally acknowledged masterpiece concerns the love of Prince Genji and life in the imperial court of Kyoto.

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Editorial Reviews

Janice P. Nimura
Royall Tyler's Tale of Genji is an enormous achievement.
New York Times
Reader-friendly at every turn, with generous footnotes, character lists, and illustrations....You have to reach for Tolstoy or Proust to convey just what a captivating experience this story can be.
Los Angeles Times
Tyler has completed the first major "Genji" translation of the 21st century, and it sets a new standard.
Not only is this latest English edition the most scrupulously true to the original, it also is superbly written and genuinely engaging. On occasion Tyler even manages to give us a taste of the formal aspect of Murasaki's style, with some wonderfully meandering, clause-embedded sentences. His technique is quite deliberate, and just as a reader feels the need to come up for air, the realization dawns that we are in fact following a subterranean map of Murasaki's prose.
Publishers Weekly
Widely recognized as the world's first novel, as well as one of its best, the 11th-century tale of Genji the shining prince has been painstakingly and tenderly translated by Tyler, a retired professor of Japanese language and literature. Genji, the son of an emperor by one of his "Intimates" and preternaturally blessed with beauty and charm, is the center of this two-volume opus though he and his heroine die some two-thirds into the book which details both his political fortunes and his many amorous adventures. Chronicling some 75 years of court life with a dizzyingly large cast of characters, it is an epic narrative; it is also minutely attentive to particulars of character, setting, emotion even costume. While two complete English translations exist (Arthur Waley's of 1933 and Edward Seidensticker's of 1976), Tyler clearly intends his to be the definitive one. It is richer, fuller and more complicated than the others indeed, Tyler's fidelity to the bygone Japanese custom of not writing proper names can sometimes make it difficult, for example, to determine which of Genji's myriad lovers he is thinking about. Unlike Waley's translation, Tyler's is unexpurgated; unlike Seidensticker's, his is heavily annotated. New line drawings of Japanese architecture and activity complement the text, while character lists at chapter beginnings, a plot summary at the conclusion and two glossaries one of offices and titles, the other of general terms orient the reader in a multigenerational and unfamiliar world. Tyler's formality of tone (contrast Seidensticker's anachronistic "He could see her point" to Tyler's simple "He sympathized") offers readers a more graceful, convincing rendering of this1,000-year-old masterpiece. Scholars and novices alike should be pleased. 6-city translator tour. (Oct. 15) Forecast: This massive project involved a whole team at Viking (see PW Interview with editor Wendy Wolf, Aug. 20). The 20,000-copy first printing may seem ambitious, but the attractive boxed edition and landmark translation effort should convince a substantial number of readers to finally add this classic to their collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Written in the 11th century, Lady Murasaki's account of court life in Heian Japan stands as one of the undisputed monuments of world literature and one of the first novels in the modern sense of the term. Stretching over several generations, it focuses on the Shining Prince, his defendants, and their shifting fortunes. Much of the substance of the novel resides in the layers and subtle nuances of etiquette, gesture, and ritual. There are two previous English translations available in both full and abridged forms, Arthur Waley's (1933) and Edward Seidensticker's (1976). Waley's efforts are groundbreaking, though they distort the work's form and make Genji into an Edwardian gentleman. Seidensticker's translation is solid, though it often simplifies the syntax. Tyler, who taught Japanese language and literature for many years at the Australian National University, offers a version that effectively captures the indirection and shades of Murasaki's court language. Tyler also includes a series of appendixes, explaining clothing, colors, and poetic allusions, as well as a general glossary. A major contribution to our understanding of world literature; highly recommended. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An elegant new translation (only the third ever done in English) of the 11th-century tale of court life in medieval Japan that is generally considered the world's oldest novel. For much of its great (though not excess) length, the story seems to be that of the eponymous "Shining Prince" Genji, the charismatic son of an emperor and a lowborn concubine. Genji's fondness for both palace intrigue and illicit love affairs bring him in and out of royal favor, and into intimate contact with such vividly drawn female characters as his own young stepmother Fujitsubo, the daughter ("Third Princess") of a former emperor who will marry him and turn the tables by cuckolding him, and a passionate noblewoman (Lady Rokujo) whose ghost will let neither Genji nor his many other women rest. The most memorable of them, however, may be the love of Genji's life, Murasaki, whom he first meets when she's a child and to whom he remains compulsively devoted and unfaithful, and whose lingering image sends him into the last of his several "self-exiles." Then, after almost 800 pages, this almost inhumanly vital protagonist dies ("His light was gone, and none among his many descendants could compare to what he had been"). A new plot emerges, in which Genji's putative son Kaoru (actually fathered by Third Princess's lover Kashiwagi) struggles with his best friend Niou (who is Genji's grandson) for the love of beautiful Ukifune, who flees them both, eventually becoming a nun. This ineffably urbane analysis of the permutations and the folly of romantic love can perhaps be compared to Proust, but to little else in Western fiction (it's actually closer in spirit to the medieval Romance of the Rose). The pseudonymous"Lady Murasaki's" precise characterizations (particularly of Genji, a marvelous mixture of sexual egoism and genuine innate nobility) are merely the crowning features of an astonishingly rich, absorbing drama that has stood, and will doubtless continue to stand, the severest tests of time and changing literary fashions. There is nothing else on earth quite like The Tale of Genji. Utterly irresistible.
From the Publisher
"While Tyler's version, which attempts to capture the social and political nuance of Murasaki's language, is the best choice for scholars, Waley's remains the most attractive and accessible for the general reader." —Library Journal

"The Tale of Genji, as translated by Arthur Waley, is written with an almost miraculous naturalness, and what interests us is not the exoticism—the horrible word—but rather the human passions of the novel. Such interest is just: Murasaki's work is what one would quite precisely call a psychological novel. I dare to recommend this book to those who read me." —Jorge Luis Borges, The Total Library

Library Journal
This tenth-century Japanese novel is indisputably one of the great achievements of world literature. Waley's translation, published in six parts between 1921 and 1933, is the first complete and literate version in any Western language. A noted sinologist, Waley also published influential translations of the Chinese classics Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber. His influence on the Western reception of Tale cannot be overstated, stimulating all subsequent translations, including the English versions of Edward Seidensticker (1976) and Royall Tyler (2001). While Tyler's version, which attempts to capture the social and political nuance of Murasaki's language, is the best choice for scholars, Waley's remains the most attractive and accessible for the general reader, removing much of the poetry cited in the original and couching Tale in the tone of the fairy tale, even if not entirely true to the spirit of the original. The first part of Waley's translation remains available in an abridged version, but Tuttle performs a valuable service by providing a complete version of all six parts in one volume. VERDICT Waley's translation is a good, reliable entrance into the world of the "shining prince" and deserves a place in a range of libraries and literary collections.—T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781463528379
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Publication date: 5/25/2011
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,116,600
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Lady Murasaki Shikibu, born in the year 978, was a member of the famed Fujiwara clan—one of the most influential families of the Heian period. Her literary ability quickly won her a place in the entourage of the Empress Akiko. After the death of her husband, Murasaki Shikibu immersed herself in Buddhism, and the religion's influences permeate her writing.

Arthur Waley (1889-1966) taught himself Chinese and Japanese after being appointed Assistant Keeper of Oriental Prints and Manuscripts at the British Museum. He went on to become renowned as one of the most respected translators of Asian classics into English of his time. His translated works include The Noh Plays of Japan and Monkey.

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Read an Excerpt

The Tale of Genji

By Murasaki Shikibu

Vintage Books USA

Copyright © 1990 Murasaki Shikibu
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0679729534

Chapter One


The Paulownia Pavilion

* * *

Kiri means "paulownia tree" and tsubo "a small garden between palace buildings." Kiritsubo is therefore the name for the palace pavilion that has a paulownia in its garden. The Emperor installs Genji's mother there, so that readers have always called her Kiritsubo no Koi (the Kiritsubo Intimate), although the text does not.

In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor. Those others who had always assumed that pride of place was properly theirs despised her as a dreadful woman, while the lesser Intimates were unhappier still. The way she waited on him day after day only stirred up feeling against her, and perhaps this growing burden of resentment was what affected her health and obliged her often to withdraw in misery to her home; but His Majesty, who could less and less do without her, ignored his critics until his behavior seemed bound to be the talk of all.

    From this sad spectacle the senior nobles and privy gentlemen could only avert their eyes. Such things had led to disorder and ruin even in China, they said, and as discontent spread through the realm, the example of Yokihi came more and more to mind, with many a painful consequence for the lady herself; yet she trusted in his gracious and unexampled affection and remained at court.

    The Grand Counselor, her father, was gone, and it was her mother, a lady from an old family, who saw to it that she should give no less to court events than others whose parents were both alive and who enjoyed general esteem; but lacking anyone influential to support her, she often had reason when the time came to lament the weakness of her position.

    His Majesty must have had a deep bond with her in past lives as well, for she gave him a wonderfully handsome son. He had the child brought in straightaway, for he was desperate to see him, and he was astonished by his beauty. His elder son, born to his Consort the daughter of the Minister of the Right, enjoyed powerful backing and was feted by all as the undoubted future Heir Apparent, but he could not rival his brother in looks, and His Majesty, who still accorded him all due respect, therefore lavished his private affection on the new arrival.

    Her rank had never permitted her to enter His Majesty's common service. His insistence on keeping her with him despite her fine reputation and her noble bearing meant that whenever there was to be music or any other sort of occasion, his first thought was to send for her. Sometimes, after oversleeping a little, he would command her to stay on with him, and this refusal to let her go made her seem to deserve contempt; but after the birth he was so attentive that the mother of his firstborn feared that he might appoint his new son Heir Apparent over her own. This Consort, for whom he had high regard, had been the first to come to him, and it was she whose reproaches most troubled him and whom he could least bear to hurt, for she had given him other children as well.

    Despite her faith in His Majesty's sovereign protection, so many belittled her and sought to find fault with her that, far from flourishing, she began in her distress to waste away. She lived in the Kiritsubo. His Majesty had to pass many others on his constant visits to her, and no wonder they took offense. On the far too frequent occasions when she went to him, there might be a nasty surprise awaiting her along the crossbridges and bridgeways, one that horribly fouled the skirts of the gentlewomen who accompanied her or who came forward to receive her; or, the victim of a conspiracy between those on either side, she might find herself locked in a passageway between two doors that she could not avoid, and be unable to go either forward or back. Seeing how she suffered from such humiliations, endlessly multiplied as circumstances favored her enemies' designs, His Majesty had the Intimate long resident in the Koroden move elsewhere and gave it to her instead, for when he wanted to have her nearby. The one evicted nursed a particularly implacable grudge.

    In the child's third year his father gave him a donning of the trousers just as impressive as his firstborn's, marshaling for the purpose all the treasures in the Court Repository and the Imperial Stores. This only provoked more complaints, but as the boy grew, he revealed such marvels of beauty and character that no one could resent him. The discerning could hardly believe their eyes, and they wondered that such a child should have ever been born.

    In the summer of that year His Majesty's Haven became unwell, but he refused her leave to withdraw. He felt no alarm, since her health had long been fragile, and he only urged her to be patient a little longer. However, she worsened daily, until just five or six days later she was so weak that her mother's tearful entreaties at last persuaded him to release her. In fear of suffering some cruel humiliation even now, she left the child behind and stole away.

    His Majesty, who could no longer keep her by him, suffered acutely to think that he could not even see her off. There she lay, lovely and ever so dear, but terribly thin now and unable to tell him of her deep trouble and sorrow because she lingered in a state of semiconsciousness--a sight that drove from his mind all notion of time past or to come and reduced him simply to assuring her tearfully, in every way he knew, how much he loved her.

    When she still failed to respond but only lay limp and apparently fainting, with the light dying from her eyes, he had no idea what to do. Even after issuing a decree to allow her the privilege of a hand carriage, he went in to her again and could not bring himself to let her go. "You promised never to leave me, not even at the end," he said, "and you cannot abandon me now! I will not let you!"

    She was so touched that she managed to breathe:

"Now the end has come, and I am filled with sorrow that our ways must part:
the path I would rather take is the one that leads to life.

If only I had known ..."

    She seemed to have more to say but to be too exhausted to go on, which only decided him, despite her condition, to see her through to whatever might follow. He consented only unwillingly to her departure when urgently reminded that excellent healers were to start prayers for her that evening at her own home.

    With his heart too full for sleep, he anxiously awaited dawn. He expressed deep concern even before his messenger had time to come back from her house. Meanwhile, the messenger heard lamenting and learned that just past midnight she had breathed her last, and he therefore returned in sorrow. This news put His Majesty in such a state that he shut himself away, wholly lost to all around him.

    He still longed to see his son, but the child was soon to withdraw, for no precedent authorized one in mourning to wait upon the Emperor. The boy did not understand what the matter was, and he gazed in wonder at the sobbing gentlewomen who had served his mother and at His Majesty's streaming tears. Such partings are sad at the best of times, and his very innocence made this one moving beyond words.

    Now it was time to proceed with the customary funeral. Her mother longed with many tears to rise with her daughter's smoke into the sky, and she insisted on joining the gentlewomen in their carriage in the funeral cortege. What grief she must have known on reaching Otagi, where the most imposing rite was under way!

    "With her body plain to see before me," she said, "I feel that she is still alive even though she is not, and I will therefore watch her turn to ash to learn that she is really gone."

    She spoke composedly enough, but a moment later she was racked by such a paroxysm of grief that she nearly fell from the carriage. "Oh, I knew it!" the gentlewomen cried to each other, not knowing how to console her.

    A messenger came from the palace, followed by an imperial envoy who read a proclamation granting the deceased the third rank. It was very sad. His Majesty had never even named her a Consort, but it pained him not to have done so, and he had wished at least to raise her a step in dignity. Even this made many resent her further, but the wiser ones at last understood that her loveliness in looks and bearing, and her sweet gentleness of temper, had made her impossible actually to dislike. It was His Majesty's unbecoming penchant for her, so his gentlewomen now understood, that had made some treat her with cold disdain, and they remembered her fondly for the warmth and kindness of her disposition. It was a perfect example of "Now she is gone."

    As the dreary days slipped by, His Majesty saw carefully to each succeeding memorial service. The passage of time did so little to relieve his sorrow that he called none of his ladies to wait on him after dark but instead passed day and night in weeping, and even those who merely witnessed his state found the autumn very dewy indeed.

    "She meant so much to him that even dead she is a blight on one's existence" summed up the sentiments of the Kokiden Consort, as merciless as ever, on the subject. The mere sight of his elder son would only remind His Majesty how much he preferred the younger, and he would then send a trusted gentlewoman or nurse to find out how he was getting on.

    At dusk one blustery and suddenly chilly autumn day, His Majesty, assailed more than ever by memories, dispatched the gentlewoman dubbed Yugei no Myobu to his love's home; then, after she had left under a beautiful evening moon, he lapsed again into reverie. He felt her there beside him, just as she had always been on evenings like this when he had called for music, and when her touch on her instrument, or her least word to him, had been so much her own; except that he would have preferred even to this vivid dream her simple reality in the dark.

    Myobu had no sooner arrived and gone in through the gate than desolation touched her. The mother had kept the place up, despite being a widow, and she had lived nicely enough out of fond concern for her only daughter, but alas, now that grief had laid her low, the weeds grew tall and looked cruelly blown about by the winds, until only moonlight slipped smoothly through their tangles.

    She had Myobu alight on the south side of the house. At first she could not speak. "I keep wishing that I had not lived so long," she said at last, "and I am so ashamed now to see someone from His Majesty struggle all the way to me through these weeds!" She wept as though it were truly more than she could bear.

    "The Dame of Staff told His Majesty how desperately sorry for you she felt after her visit here, and how heartbroken she was," Myobu replied; "and even I, who pretend to no delicacy of feeling, understand what she meant all too well." Then, after composing herself a little, she delivered His Majesty's message.

    "'For a time I was sure that I must be dreaming, but now that the turmoil in my mind has subsided, what I still find acutely painful is to have no one with whom to talk over what needs to be done. Would you be kind enough to visit me privately? I am anxious about my son and disturbed that he should be surrounded every day by such grieving. Please come soon.'

    "He kept breaking into tears and never really managed to finish, but he knew all too well, as I could see, that to another he might not be looking very brave, and I felt so much for him that I hurried off to you before I had actually heard all he had to say." Then Myobu gave her His Majesty's letter.

    "Though tears darken my eyes," the lady said, "by the light of his most wise and gracious words ..." And she began to read.

    "I had thought that time might bring consolations to begin lightening my sorrow, but as the passing days and months continue to disappoint me, I hardly know how to bear my grief. Again and again my thoughts go to the little boy, and it troubles me greatly that I cannot look after him with you. Do come and see me in memory of days now gone ..." He had written with deep feeling and had added the poem:

"Hearing the wind sigh, burdening with drops of dew all Miyagi Moor,
my heart helplessly goes out to the little
hagi frond."

But she could not read it to the end.

    "Now that I know how painful it is to live long," she said, "I am ashamed to imagine what that pine must think of me, and for that reason especially I would not dare to frequent His Majesty's Seat. It is very good indeed of him to favor me with these repeated invitations, but I am afraid that I could not possibly bring myself to go. His son, on the other hand, seems eager to do so, although I am not sure just how much he understands, and while it saddens me that he should feel that way, I cannot blame him. Please let His Majesty know these, my inmost thoughts. I fear that the child's dignity will suffer if he remains here, for I am a creature of misfortune, and it would be wrong for him to stay."

    The little boy was asleep. "I had wanted to see him so that I could report on him to His Majesty," Myobu said as she prepared to hasten away, "but I am expected back. It must be very late by now."

    "I would so like to talk to you longer, to lift a little of the unbearable darkness from my heart," she replied. "Please come to see me on your own, too, whenever you wish. You always used to visit at happy, festive times, and seeing you here now on so sad an errand reminds one how very painful life is. We had such hopes for her from the time she was born, and my husband, the late Grand Counselor, kept urging me almost until his last breath to achieve his ambition for her and have her serve His Majesty. 'Do not lose heart and give up,' he said, 'just because I am gone.' So I did send her, although I felt that if she had to enter palace service without anyone to support her properly, it might be wiser to refrain; because what mattered to me was to honor his last wishes. Unfortunately, His Majesty became far more fond than was right of someone who did not deserve that degree of favor, but she seems to have borne the disgraceful treatment she received and to have continued serving him until the growing burden of others' jealousy, and the increasing unpleasantness to which she was subjected, led her to break down as she did; and that is why I wish that His Majesty had not cared for her so much. I suppose I only say that, though, because her loss has plunged me into such terrible shadows ..." Her voice trailed off and she wept.

    By now it was very late. "His Majesty feels as you do," Myobu assured her. "I now understand,' he says, 'how damaging my love for her really was, because the way I insisted despite my better judgment on favoring her to the point of scandal meant that it could not have gone on very long. I had no wish to offend anyone, and yet because of her I provoked resentment in those whom I should not have hurt, only to lose her in the end and to linger on inconsolable, a sorrier spectacle now than I ever made of myself before. I wish I knew what in my past lives could have brought all this upon me.' This is what he says again and again, and as he does so, he is never far from weeping."

    Myobu talked on and at last said tearfully, "It is now very late, and I must not let the night go by without bringing His Majesty your answer." She hastily prepared to return to the palace.

    The moon was setting in a beautifully clear sky, the wind had turned distinctly cold, and the crickets crying from among the grasses seemed to be calling her to weep with them, until she could hardly bear to leave this house of humble misery.

"Bell crickets may cry until they can cry no more, but not so for me,
for all through the endless night my tears will fall on and on,"

she said. She could not get into her carriage.

"Here where crickets cry more and more unhappily in thinning grasses
you who live above the clouds bring still heavier falls of dew.

I would soon have been blaming you," the answer came.

    This was no time for pretty parting gifts, and she gave Myobu instead, in her daughter's memory, some things that she had saved for just such an occasion: a set of gowns and some accessories that her daughter had used to put up her hair.

    The young gentlewomen who had served her daughter were of course saddened by the loss of their mistress, but they missed the palace now they were used to it, and memories of His Majesty moved them to urge that his son should move there as quickly as possible; but she felt sure that people would disapprove if one as ill-fated as herself were to accompany him, and since she also knew how much she worried whenever he was out of sight, she could not bring herself to let him go.

    Myobu felt a pang of sympathy when she found that His Majesty had not yet retired for the night. The garden court was in its autumn glory, and on the pretext of admiring it he had quietly called into attendance four or five of his most engaging gentlewomen, with whom he was now conversing. Lately he had been spending all his time examining illustrations of "The Song of Unending Sorrow" commissioned by Emperor Uda, with poems by Ise and Tsurayuki; and other poems as well, in native speech or in Chinese, as long as they were on that theme, which was the constant topic of his conversation.

    He questioned Myobu carefully about her visit, and she told him in private how sad it had been. Then he read the lady's reply. She had written, "Your Majesty's words inspire such awe that I am unworthy to receive them; confusion overwhelms me in the presence of sentiments so gracious.

"Ever since that tree whose boughs took the cruel winds withered and was lost
my heart is sorely troubled for the little
hagi frond,"

and so on--a rather distracted letter, although His Majesty understood how upset she still was and no doubt forgave her. He struggled in vain to control himself, despite his resolve to betray no strong emotion. A rush of memories even brought back the days when he had first known his love, and he was shocked to realize how long he had already been without her, when once he had so disliked her briefest absence.

    "I had wanted her mother to feel it was worthwhile to have her enter my service," he said, "as the late Grand Counselor at his death had urged her to do. What a shame!" He felt very sorry. "At any rate, I should be able to do something for my son, as long as he grows up properly. She must take care that she lives to see it."

    Myobu showed him the gifts she had received. If only this were the hairpin that she sent back from beyond, he thought; but, alas, it was not. He murmured,

"O that I might find a wizard to seek her out, that I might then know
at least from distant report where her dear spirit has gone."

    A superb artist had done the paintings of Yokihi, but the brush can convey only so much, and her picture lacked the breath of life. The face, so like the lotuses in the Taieki Lake or the willows by the Mio Palace, was no doubt strikingly beautiful in its Chinese way, but when he remembered how sweet and dear his love had been, he found himself unable to compare her to flowers or birdsong. Morning and evening he had assured her that they would share a wing in flight as birds or their branches as trees, but then she had died, and the resulting vanity of his promises filled him with unending sorrow.

    The sound of the wind and the calling of crickets only deepened his melancholy, and meanwhile he heard the Kokiden Consort, who had not come for so long now to wait on him after dark, making the best of a beautiful moon by playing music far into the night. He did not like it and wished it would stop. Those gentlewomen and privy gentlemen who knew his mood found that it grated upon their ears. The offender, willful and abrasive, seemed determined to behave as though nothing had happened.

    The moon set.

"When above the clouds tears in a veil of darkness hide the autumn moon,
bow could there be light below among the humble grasses?"

His Majesty murmured, his thoughts going to the lady whom Myobu had recently left, and he stayed up until the lamp wicks had burned out.

    It must have been the hour of the Ox, because he heard the Right Gate Watch reporting for duty. He then retired to his curtained bed, for he did not wish to make himself conspicuous, but still he could not sleep. He remembered when morning came, and it was time to rise, how once he had not even known that daybreak was upon him, and again he seemed likely to miss his morning session in council.

    He only went through the motions of breaking his fast and took no greater interest in his midday meal, until all who served him grieved to see his state. Those in close attendance upon him, ladies and gentlemen alike, murmured anxiously about how disturbing it all was. Perhaps he had been fated to love her, but for him to have ignored the reproofs and the anger of so many, to have flouted for her sake the standards of proper conduct, and even now to ignore public affairs as he was doing--this, they all whispered, was most unfortunate, and they cited in this connection events in the land beyond the sea.

    In time the little boy went to join his father in the palace. He was turning out to be so handsome that he hardly seemed of this world at all, and for His Majesty this aroused a certain dread. The next spring, when His Majesty was to designate the Heir Apparent, he longed to pass over his elder son in favor of his younger, but since the younger lacked support, and since in any case the world at large would never accept such a choice, he desisted for the boy's sake and kept his desire to himself. "He could hardly go that far," people assured one another, "no matter how devoted to him he may be." The Kokiden Consort was relieved.

    As for the grandmother, she remained inconsolable and wished only to join her daughter, which no doubt is why she, too, to His Majesty's boundless sorrow, at last passed away. The boy was then entering his sixth year. This time he understood what had happened, and he cried. Toward the end, she who had been close to him for so long spoke again and again of how sad she was to leave him.

    Now the boy was permanently in attendance at the palace. When he reached his seventh year, His Majesty had him perform his first reading, which he carried off with such unheard-of brilliance that his father was frankly alarmed. "Surely none of you can dislike him now," he said; "after all, he no longer has a mother. Please be nice to him." When he took him to the Kokiden, the Consort there let him straight through her blinds and would not release him, for the sight of him would have brought smiles to the fiercest warrior, even an enemy one. She had given His Majesty two daughters, but by no stretch of the imagination could either be compared with him. Nor did any other imperial lady hide from him, because he was already so charmingly distinguished in manner that they found him a delightful and challenging playmate. Naturally he applied himself to formal scholarship, but he also set the heavens ringing with the music of strings and flute. In fact, if I were to list all the things at which he excelled, I would only succeed in making him sound absurd.


Excerpted from The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu Copyright © 1990 by Murasaki Shikibu. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
List of Maps and Diagrams x
Introduction xi
The Tale of Genji, Chapters 1-33 1
The Tale of Genji, Chapters 34-54 575
Chronology 1125
General Glossary 1134
Clothing and Color 1154
Offices and Titles 1159
Summary of Poetic Allusions Identified in the Notes 1169
Further Reading 1173
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Reading Group Guide


The Tale of Genji, written a thousand years ago in Japan, is a great masterpiece of world literature. Although not the oldest surviving example of prose fiction, it may well be the first novel ever written. In The Progress of Fiction, the British novelist Clara Reeve (1729-1807) distinguished the novel from the romance and wrote, "The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and ... gives a familiar relation of such things as pass every day before our eyes.... [It] represent[s] every scene in so easy and natural a manner ... as to deceive us into a persuasion (at least while we are reading) that all is real, until we are affected by the joys or distresses of the persons in the story as if they were our own." Her words describe The Tale of Genji. Remarkably, Murasaki Shikibu, the tale's author, was also a woman.

Murasaki Shikibu (973?-1014?) was born into the middle level of the Japanese aristocracy. In about 1006 she was called to serve the Empress of the time, perhaps because she wrote such good stories. Nobody knows just when she began her Tale or when she finished it, but what remains of her diary alludes to the work as it existed in 1007 or 1008, and she has been recognized ever since as the author of all fifty-four chapters. Unfortunately, no manuscript survives from her time. The earliest known text dates from about 1200.

Murasaki Shikibu wrote above all for the Empress, her patron, and through her for other members of the highest aristocracy. A great lady did not normally read a story silently by herself. Instead, she listened while one of her women read it aloud and she herself looked at the pictures. Murasaki Shikibu may well have read some chapters in person to the Empress, and she certainly wrote her tale in that spirit. The Tale of Genji is ostensibly told by a female narrator (perhaps more than one) whose language often suggests that she is addressing a superior.

The tale features several unforgettable major heroines, such as Fujitsubo, Murasaki (apparently the source of her creator's name), Akashi, Rokujo, and Ukifune, as well as many striking minor ones. However, the thread that holds things together is the life of Genji, the hero. Genji is an Emperor's son by a relatively low-ranking lady who dies not long after his birth. Even as a boy, Genji is extraordinarily beautiful and gifted, but his father, who longs to appoint him Heir Apparent, understands that the court would never accept his doing so. He therefore decides to make Genji a commoner, so that Genji can at least serve the realm in due course as a senior official.

The tale often highlights the social boundary that separates a commoner from someone imperial, but for the rest of his life Genji will hover between the two worlds, and this will give him, as a fictional hero, a particularly wide scope. To free him further from the constraints of the commonplace, the author also gives him practically unlimited material means. In the first dozen or so chapters, the young Genji becomes entangled in a dazzling assortment of love affairs that range from broad comedy to disaster. The most agonizing of them is his relationship with his father's Empress—the princess whom his father married explicitly in order to seek solace after the death of Genji's mother. Genji was told as a child that this lady closely resembled his mother, and he fell deeply in love with her. In time she bears a son who is really Genji's, not Genji's father's, and this boy eventually accedes to the throne. When, years later, he learns the secret of his birth, he decides to honor his real father by appointing Genji Honorary Retired Emperor, even though Genji has never reigned. This step, which in the author's time could be taken only in fiction, brings Genji to an unheard-of pinnacle of glory. Meanwhile, he finds his lifelong love and companion (Murasaki) in a beautiful niece of his father's empress, someone who closely resembles that empress and therefore Genji's late mother herself. This theme—the hero's nostalgia for his lost mother—has fascinated many readers.

Genji's rise to ultimate glory marks a turning point, and soon his world begins slowly to crumble around him. Murasaki comes to feel estranged from him, though he will not let her go. Then her death destroys him. In the last chapter in which he appears, he is only a shell of what he once was, and past the end of that chapter he dies, too. The remaining third of the book picks up the story some eight years later. It now centers on a young man, Kaoru, whom the world accepts as Genji's son, although in reality he is not. Kaoru has nothing like Genji's stature. The mood of this last third of the tale is dark with intimations of betrayal and failure, so much so that Kaoru has seemed to many readers a remarkably modern hero. The tale ends at last on an inconclusive note, one that leaves many wondering "what happened next." Only the reader's imagination can provide an answer. The genius of The Tale of Genji is all the more impressive because the author had few models to work from. Many things about the lives of the characters—the clothes they wore, the kinds of houses they lived in, their pastimes, their rules of deportment, and so on—are of course unfamiliar now, but their feelings, motives, and experiences are recognizable to anyone. Love, ambition, pride, anguish, bitterness, and disappointment affect us all, and The Tale of Genji presents them with a freshness of insight that has made it famous for its psychological immediacy. It is a rich and astonishing work.


Murasaki Shikibu, born in 978, was a member of Japan's Fujiwara clan, which ruled behind the scenes during the Heian Period by providing the brides and courtesans of all the emperors. Lady Murasaki's rare literary talent, particularly her skill as a poet, secured her a place in the court of Empress Akiko. After the death of her husband, she cloistered herself to study Buddhism, raise her daughter, and write the world's first novel Genji Monogatari, the tale of the shining Prince Genji.


Royall Tyler was born in London, England, and grew up in Massachusetts, England, Washington D.C., and Paris. He has a B.A. in Far Eastern Languages from Harvard, and an M.A. in Japanese History and Ph. D. in Japanese literature from Columbia University. He has taught Japanese language and culture at, among other places, Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Oslo, in Norway. Beginning in 1990, he taught at the Australian National University, in Canberra, from which he retired at the end of 2000. He will spend the American academic year 2001-02 as a Visiting Professor at Harvard.

Royall Tyler and his wife Susan live in a rammed earth house on 100 acres in the bush about seventy miles from Canberra, where they breed alpacas as a hobby.

Royall Tyler's previous works include Japanese Noh Dramas, a selection and translation of Noh plays published by Penguin;Japanese Tales and French Folktales, anthologies published by Pantheon; and The Miracles of the Kasuga Deity, a study of a medieval Japanese cult published by Columbia University Press.


  • What do the men in the tale value in a woman?
  • How does a man gain access to a woman, and how does a woman safeguard her dignity?
  • How do the characters in the tale define personal worth? What do they admire?
  • What consequences flow from the birth of Genji's son by his father's Empress?
  • What are the reasons for Genji's exile (chapter 13) and its consequences?
  • How do the characters view the native (Japanese) in comparison with the foreign (Chinese)?
  • Is there humor in the tale? How does it work?
  • What are the erotic elements in the tale? What is their value?
  • Spirits speak several times in the tale. How do the characters react to these events? What do you make of them?
  • In chapter 2 a young courtier discourses generally on art, in chapter 17 the issue is painting, and in chapter 25 Genji discusses fiction. How do the views expressed relate to more recent ones, including yours?
  • How do you imagine the men and women in the tale spending their time when the text does not tell you what they are doing?
  • Why does Genji marry Onna San no Miya (the Third Princess)?
  • What role do dreams play in the tale?
  • What do you make of the tale's last heroine, Ukifune?
  • What do you think happens beyond the tale's last page?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 45 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2010

    Darn! This is an abridged version.

    Wish I'd realized... if you enlarge the cover it says abridged, but nowhere does the description say this. So, I've got an abridged ebook, and there are no returns on ebooks. Really annoyed.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2010

    Not the unabridged edition

    Despite linking to this page from the unabridged Seidensticker edition, this is neither Seidensticker nor unabridged. My rating here is meaningless. It only reflects the fact that I had to give a rating to post this comment.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2005


    Although it's a slow read because you have to pay close attention- every detail counts- this has to be one of the best books I've ever read. It's long, but worth every second it takes to read it. If you're interested in the Japanese culture, this is a great book. It tells a wonderful, enthralling tale that intrigues you and keeps you going- it makes you want more. If you don't get into it in the first few chapters- don't give up hope- you'd be passing by one of the greatest novels ever written. Just have some patience and stick with it. It will definitely pay off.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2002

    The Tale to be Hold

    Genji is the ultimate Prince. So much admire by everyone and so dear to many people around him. His elegance and grace surpassed anything that exist before him. Superbly written to give us a glimse into 11 century Japan Imperial Court. The Tale of Genji brings readers to a new threshold of enjoyment and fascination.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2014

    Warning! This is only volume 1 and not the whole book.

    Warning! This is only volume 1 and not the whole book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014



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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

    Part 1 - Review - Settle dispute over abridged vs. unabridged

    To settle a running issue in the reviews, I just purchased this book, it is indeed UNABRIDGED. The only "flaw", is the OCR of the original book converted all of the ending "Os" in the Japanese names into a "?" or question mark. Sad, for it mars a perfect book. When I have completed reading the book, then I will provide a content review.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2013

    I like this well enough.

    I like this well enough but i really thought need edited.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2013


    Didnt even buy it

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    I enjoyed reading this book, most of the times. It was a great r

    I enjoyed reading this book, most of the times. It was a great read in a reality, but you really have to follow it closely. There really is no way that you can't pay attention and absorb what's being said. Every time my mind wondered away from what I was reading, I found myself at a loss of what I just read. Therefore, it was confusing at times with all the jumping around and some of the descriptions, but there was great detail that made the book well-written. I would definitely recommend this book, but only to those who are interested in history and especially Japanese history. It was an excellent insight on their culture that I enjoyed completely.

    I truly believed that the author, Murasaki, got her point across quite well. This story was obviously written for mainly women audiences and I believe that she achieved her purpose in doing so. She was able to get across how women lived and were treated in the eleventh century of Japan that she was living in herself. She made it clear about her place in society and what it was like, so she was able to get it across very well. She definitely accomplished her purpose in educating the reader on how life was like for women in such a time period.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2012

    A Tragic tale part 1

    Ther are many Tragic tales in this world. I am here to tell only one of them. Let the story begin.

    Thunderkit opened his eyes after a good nights sleep. "Two more moons till I'm an apprentice" he thought.

    "Hey small fry when are you going to get up and actually be useful?" Smirked his sister Flamekit

    "I see why mama beats you. Your useless and ugly. Were out of here." Said his brother Grasskit

    They left laughing at Thunderkit. He cringed thinking of his mother. She was a pretty white cat with bright green eyes. It's true that she beats him. But not with just her paws. Oh no she did it with her claws.

    "THUNDERKIT GET UP NOW!" shouted his mother Daisypetal

    "I'm.....I'm coming!" Mewed Thunderkit

    "The leader wants you and he wants you NOW." Shouted Daisypetal "I hope he kills you. Your worthless. I don't want you even."

    I pad into the leaders den shaking. Why was mama always so mean? What did I do to diserve it? Its it because I was born Black? Or is It because I have green eyes?

    "Thunderkit come here." Said Berrystar

    "ye...yes sir."


    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2010

    The Tale Of Gengi Review

    At first I thought that The Tale of Genji would be an ok book. But when I started reading it I couldn't put it down. The only problem I had with the book is that some parts were really confusing and it jumped around a whole lot. For the most part I had to reread it and take it in bits of pieces. So pretty much what im saying it isn't a book that you can just fly through. You really need to break it down and think through it. If you really like history or enjoy Japanese culture than I believe this a really good and interesting book to read. It was really amazing and outrageous to read about different cultures and how they depended on life in there period of time. When I was reading I loved how vivid the story was when they were described the court life. It was so vivid that when I read it I could actually see it in my head as if actually I was there during the time. They described the events beautifully. Talking about the plot, well the plot is mostly about Genji`s life. The book really went through and talked about the affairs he had with many woman. It pretty much showed you his life at his time period. It didn't just show his affairs with different woman but even about his culture. Genji had a really rough time and I don't think he new what he was doing at the time. Genji had everything in front of him but to me he never opened his heart up for anything. I believe he was a very ignorant type that used many people than he would help. But then again his life at his time and period it wasn't easy and was really different from today's life. In many parts of the book it would make you think how lucky we are today that we didn't or don't have to got through the things they did at the time. One main thing that really made me think is how woman were treated at the time and it would probably kill me to be hidden all day and not seeing men all the time. That's why I really liked this book because it really explained and made you think how lucky we are today then to be treated in Genji`s time. I really loved this book and its one of m favorites I do to recommend it to everyone but mainly people that love history or Japanese culture.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2009

    AP World History Review: Well-written, but boring at times

    Though The Tale of Genji was well-written, I personally found it a boring read. Many parts of the book are difficult to understand and I had to re-read them many times. Also, I think the book would be better suited for people more interested in history, because of its details of the eleventh century time period. I also thought that the story was more about women in the time period, and how they were treated, then about the character Genji himself. I felt like the book just seemed to run on at some points. I would not recommend this book to someone unless they have a great interest in history.

    However, I do think that the author got her purpose across, and the book was well-written based on the topic. The book was about life during the Imperial Court in Japan. The plot follows Genji's life, taking the reader through many of the affairs that he went through so they could get a detailed glimpse of life in this time period such as love affairs, politics, and the culture. I think that the author targeted the book at a women audience based on the many women characters seen throughout the novel and the look the author gives the reader on how they were treated.

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Genji needs a bottle

    The Tale of Genji is quite the adventure of one prince in Japan. Through many unfortunate events Genji continues on his way through life trying to remain positive and happy. However, he fails miserably in several affairs, is betrothed to a Princess several years older than he who hates him for unexplained reasons. Through every extra marital affair Genji explores (and there are many) he has horrible luck as well. He always falls in love with what he can't have and then looses interest when the affections are returned. He runs several prominent women into the nunnery by his behavior and even has several die on him. He kidnaps another Prince's daughter because he wanted to, and then drives her crazy with his hot and cold advances. I think I delighted in his adventures with his friends, more than all the late night excursions he went to with various ladies. The court life and festivals were described beautifully and added a richer element to the tale. The description of wardrobes, poems, artistic works and explanations on why each of these was used in certain situation was very enjoyable. Overall, I would have preferred a more historically based story, than what ended feeling like nothing more than one mans indiscretions and all that can possibly go wrong. He should have corked himself up, and his life might have been less stressful and painful in the end.

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  • Posted March 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Tale of Geji

    I was a bit skeptical when I bought the book and thought I would hold off on reading it until better times (when I have nothing else to read). But once I read couple of pages I wasn't able to stop. The language is very beautiful, even though it's hard to understand sometimes. The poem and verses that the characters address to each other are very touching and actually express their feelings more than author's narration would have. In the beginning of the book the translator said that the book was written in stages, that the author didn't write the whole thing all together, but rather had it unfold over couple of years. And it's actually very noticable, if you compare the writing in the beginning and at the end. But I think it's a very unique way of writing a book or a novel, because we can see that the author matured over the years and, so did the writing style.
    Over all I think it's a really good book and I definitely did not expect it. I also believe that this book really shows how different that time was comparing to ours. When I was reading this book I started to compare how everyone treated each other and how men behaved towards women....... This book makes you think about certain topics of our every day lives.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2007

    Long but has its strong points.

    The Tale of Genji unfolds almost like a modern-day soap opera. And although the tale touches on the historical importance of its time, most of the book is focused solely on the love affairs men enjoyed with women and the consequences that came about. With knowledge that the book was written by a woman, where in her time women wrote to entertain themselves, it is fair to say that The Tale of Genji succeeds in providing its intended female audience a grand entertaining tale. So absorbed is the book with love affairs, however, that one is left wondering if even the males enjoyed any other activities in life other than their personal relationships. The book¿s description of its characters, particularly that of Genji leave a powerful impression on the reader. The tale is surprisingly engrossing and enjoyable to read, but at times difficult to follow. It seems the tale is indeed ¿patched together¿ as often times readers may find themselves returning back to previous chapters to understand exactly what is being discussed. It is worth noting that an interesting aspect of the novel is its wide use of poetry. There are literally hundreds of poems located within the novel, and like the novel itself, these poems, though entertaining, can be difficult to follow for the general reader. Perhaps the book¿s biggest disappointments occur with the death of Genji. It is hard to imagine the main character and hero of the book dead long before the book reaches its end, but that is precisely what occurs in this novel. The general reader may find it difficult to adjust to an almost completely new set of characters with a similar plot for the remaining chapters. Of course it is the novel¿s length that is most difficult to bear. The novel endlessly stretches on without a solid plot or timeline that makes it seem never-ending. When the end is finally reached, the reader may be disappointed that the book seems unfinished and startlingly comes to an abrupt end without notice. All in all, this book might be recommended only for those with a true appreciation of Japanese writing. It is not a book that even the most avid of readers will be able to breeze through it requires a slower, more methodical method of reading. In fact, it is very likely that the reader will want to return to parts of the novel several times seeking clarity or further explanation as events unfold. This is not a story that has a clear structure. The story does seem to jump around a bit, and even though it offers much love and tragedy, it fails to satisfy the reader with its less-than-exciting ending. For its history alone and the very way it came to exist in today¿s literature collections, the book deserves at least three stars out of five.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2007

    Tale of Genji

    Tale of Genji is a very good read. You must however, alot quite a bit of time and then sometimes reread certain sections. Genji is a wonderful book in which matters of the heart are looked at from a different era and by a different prespective. Genji is written in the time of the Imperial Court of Japan and offers the reader a little look at what life was like during that time. Genji is quite the playboy and he has the love of several different women. In some ways I feel sorrow for Genji. He is looking so hard for love that he doesn't realize he has it all along. I also think when it comes to insight, the book is great in this respect because it is written by a female author who is considered to be one of the greatest Japanese artist of her time. Once again a very good book, but lenghty.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2005

    Incredibly enjoyable, well worth the time

    This book is an exquisite tale of a adored 11th century Japanese prince. Although the sheer size may be off-putting, you should definitely reconsider, especially if you are a fan of Asian culture. The story and particularly the characters are sometimes hard to follow but once you are secure with the rhythm and style of Murasaki's writing, you will be utterly enthralled.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    Very good book

    Eventhough I have not read it yet, but from the review I'm very sure it's a very very interesting book. Please read it and support the asian culture!~

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2002

    Excellent Book

    Very good book about the Japanese Imperial Court. The translator soothed the major pain of the difficult names of the characters. In the original Japanese and translated Chinese versions (which is very close to Japanese). Yet, you should read the original if you can or Chinese or Korean (not as good as Chinese) translations. The character names are very difficult. For example, when a comcubine becomes a queen, she sometimes takes another title and it is very easy to get lost in the book. Also, in the original, the some characters are not given names until much later or not at all. Yet, overall, this book is excellent. If you really enjoyed this book, try the Red Chamber Dream. The story is somewhat similar yet is way better in poetry, characters, and major plot line.

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