Setting: C11th, Japan
In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others.
–Murasaki Shikibu - The tale of Geni
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
I have decided that I should try to read more “world literature”, not just modern fiction but books that might be regarded as classics from around the world. And what better place to start, thought I, than with The tale of Genji which may be the world’s first novel. It is certainly one of the earliest to survive.
It tells the story of Genji, a son of the emperor, and his many many love interests. It also gives a great look at Japanese imperial society and culture at the time, but I just can’t see myself finishing it so am calling it a day on this one.
The main reason I am giving up on it is that all Genji seems to do is sleep around. And often with unwilling participants. And he marries a 12 year old! I mean, okay he waited two years after the met her, but in that time he pretty much kidnapped her and raised her.
That’s just all manner of wrong, even if it was perfectly okay at the time I just can’t face reading such a long book about such a character. And it is a long long book, translations are usually at least 1000 pages. If you want, you can read it yourself for free online and if you do let me know if you finish it.
Next month I’m going to try Ramayana by Valmiki. Let’s hope I have better luck with that.