The Tale of the Heike

Overview

A masterpiece of world literature; the samurai saga of pride, romance, and warfare of medieval Japan

With a reflection on the fleeting nature of power and glory begins The Tale of the Heike, an epic from twelfth-century Japan. Comparable in stature to The Tale of Genji, The Tale of the Heike narrates with wit, energy, and compassion the stories of such unforgettable characters as the ruthless warlord Kiyomori, who dies still burning with such rage that water poured on him boils;...

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The Tale of the Heike

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Overview

A masterpiece of world literature; the samurai saga of pride, romance, and warfare of medieval Japan

With a reflection on the fleeting nature of power and glory begins The Tale of the Heike, an epic from twelfth-century Japan. Comparable in stature to The Tale of Genji, The Tale of the Heike narrates with wit, energy, and compassion the stories of such unforgettable characters as the ruthless warlord Kiyomori, who dies still burning with such rage that water poured on him boils; Hotoke, the beautiful young dancer who renounces wealth and fame to follow her conscience; Shigemori, the tyrant’s righteous son, who struggles against all odds to uphold fairness and justice; and Yoshitsune, the daring commander who defeats the enemy in battle after battle, only to be condemned by his jealous, powerful brother.

The Tale of the Heike is a foundation stone of Japanese culture and a major masterpiece of world literature. Lavishly illustrated and accompanied by maps, character guides, and genealogies, this book is a volume to treasure.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Christopher Benfey
Encountering Homer in a vivid translation made Keats feel like an astonished astronomer watching a new planet swim into view. Readers unfamiliar with medieval Japanese literature…may feel a kindred excitement on first looking into The Tale of the Heike, in a taut new rendering by Royall Tyler. If "beauty and elegance," as Tyler remarks, pervade the atmosphere of the earlier Tale of Genji…the fall of the Heike warrior clan, during the late 12th century, calls to mind the riotous bloodletting of the Iliad. And just as Homer's epic has inspired a thousand spinoffs, much of what draws us to Japanese culture—samurai and geisha, anime and manga, woodblock prints and Kurosawa films—comes right out of the exploits recounted in this book.
Publishers Weekly
This modern translation of the Japanese medieval classic tracing the rise and fall of the Taira (Heike) clan reads like the Iliad filtered through Akira Kurosawa, with battlefield panoramas and personal tragedies captured in an exquisitely cinematic narrative. Eight centuries of oral tradition have transformed historical figures into legends, none more so than Taira no Kiyomori, the 12th-century warlord who, by suppressing rebellions and putting relatives into key positions, rises so quickly through the imperial hierarchy that he forgets fundamental principles of Japanese epics: earthly possessions are transient; fear the angry dead. Kiyomori dismisses his faithful mistress, destroys two temples, cuts off numerous heads, and moves the capital on a whim. While arrogance proves Kiyomori’s downfall, success beguiles the Minamoto (Genji) brothers, who defeat the Heike, then turn against one another. Memorable passages include descriptions of the dancer Gio, the old warhorse Yoshihisa, and the brave soldier Kumagai. Stories-within-stories highlight customs as varied as achieving redemption through renunciation and dressing the fashion-forward hero. Despite its antique style, readers will find themselves drawn into the book’s alternately delicate and brutal world, where there are degrees of emperor (emperor, retired emperor, cloistered emperor) and monks (esoteric monks, fighting monks, retired nobility who become monks). Following his noteworthy translation of The Tale of Genji, Tyler offers accessible language while observing literary tradition in names and format. To help both old hands and newcomers navigate the vibrant yet sometimes arduous masterpiece, he provides an introduction, character list, maps, genealogies, chronologies, footnotes, and glorious 19th-century illustrations. (Nov.)
Times Literary Supplement
"Spectacularly beautiful...This will be the English Heike for our time and for many decades to come."
Liza Dalby
Praise for THE TALE OF GENJI

“Superbly written and genuinely engaging…one of those works that can be read and reread throughout one’s life.”

The New York Times Book Review
“An enormous achievement.”
The Wall Street Journal
“A new translation that makes Genji accessible to contemporary readers is a landmark event. [Tyler’s translation has clearly been a labor of love. In his beautifully written translation he tries to get as close to the original as possible, immersing us in eleventh-century Japan. Mr. Tyler’s translation is richly embellished with footnotes that flag for us everything that Murasaki and her contemporaries would have taken for granted. All in all, Mr. Tyler’s translation is likely to be the definitive edition of The Tale of Genji for many years to come.”
Newsweek
The Tale of Genji set an insanely high standard for anything that came after it. This latest edition is reader friendly at every turn, with generous footnotes, character lists and lots of illustrations to show what robes looked like, or swords, or houses. You have to reach for comparisons to Tolstoy or Proust to convey just what a captivating experience this story can be."
The New Yorker
“Tyler’s delicate ear for the language of the original helps breathe new life into the story of Genji.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Though [Murasaki’s] setting was the royal Japanese court of one thousand years ago, her characters managed to draw the reader into their passion and terrors in an uncannily modern way. [Tyler’s translation is] beautifully readable…it sets a new standard. Not only is this new English edition the most scrupulously true to the original, it also is superbly written and genuinely engaging. We are blessed to have Tyler’s help in reading it.”
The Washington Post Book World
“Tyler has long shown himself to be one of the finest translators of Japanese in our era. In producing this new Genji translation, he has been able not only to draw upon his own skills as a writer, but also to build on the efforts and accomplishments of his predecessors…the Tyler version is by far the most helpful to the general reader.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Tyler] has crafted an elegant translation that remarkably renders this eleventh-century tale in language so lively, vivid and transparent, one could easily believe that the book was written by some gifted postmodernist. Royall Tyler devoted space to explaining, through the introduction and footnotes, nuances of the time, helping help us place them into a modern context. This edition of The Tale of Genji is beautifully realized, both as  translation and as a seamless art object.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670025138
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/25/2012
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 1,428,579
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Royall Tyler is retired from the Australian National University, where he taught Japanese language and literature for many years. He holds degrees from Harvard and Columbia universities, and has also taught at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin. His most recent translation is The Tale of Genji.

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