The Tale of Genji (Penguin Classics)

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9780670030200: The Tale of Genji (Penguin Classics)

In the tradition of Robert Fagles's translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Viking presents a stunning translation of Lady Murasaki's exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan. Written in the eleventh century, The Tale of Genji is widely celebrated as the world's first novel, but as Donald Keene has observed, it is also "one of its greatest." Genji the Shining Prince, the son of an emperor, is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic. Throughout, The Tale of Genji offers a lively and well-rounded glimpse of golden age Japan with a cast of characters as richly conceived and nuanced as those of Proust. Royall Tyler's superb translation, detailed and poetic, is scrupulously true to the Japanese original but appeals immediately to the modern reader as well. Tyler includes detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and chronologies to help the reader navigate the multigenerational narrative and its references. Magnificently packaged in a two-volume set with a slipcase, this is a literary event comparable to Seamus Heaney's bestselling translation of Beowulf. It will spark interest in this masterpiece of world literature and serve as the standard edition for many years to come.

Translated by Royall Tyler.

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About the Author:

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.

From 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 this 1,000-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, Inc.

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