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As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (1060)

by Lady Sarashina

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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396846,347 (3.93)21
A thousand years ago, a young Japanese girl embarked on a journey from the wild East Country to the capital. She began a diary that she would continue to write for the next forty years and compile later in life, bringing lasting prestige to her family. Some aspects of the author's life and text seem curiously modern. She married at age thirty-three and identified herself as a reader and writer more than as a wife and mother. Enthralled by romantic fiction, she wrote extensively about the disillusioning blows that reality can deal to fantasy. The Sarashina Diary is a portrait of the writer as reader and an exploration of the power of reading to shape one's expectations and aspirations. As a person and an author, this writer presages the medieval era in Japan with her deep concern for Buddhist belief and practice. Her narrative's main thread follows a trajectory from youthful infatuation with romantic fantasy to the disillusionment of age and concern for the afterlife; yet, at the same time, many passages erase the dichotomy between literary illusion and spiritual truth. This new translation captures the lyrical richness of the original text while revealing its subtle structure and ironic meaning. The introduction highlights the poetry in the Sarashina Diary and the juxtaposition of poetic passages and narrative prose, which brings meta-meanings into play. The translators' commentary offers insight into the author's family and world, as well as the fascinating textual legacy of her work.… (more)
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English (5)  Swedish (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
I don't really know why I decided to buy this. Japan is of course a fascinating country with a fascinating culture and history, but I know nothing about the Heian era or its writings – or anything much before the Meiji restoration – so I have no context to put it into. Nonetheless, it's incredibly fascinating and moving to read words (in translation) written nearly a millennium ago, before William the Conqueror landed in England, on the opposite side of the world, and to find in them a recognisable humanity. ( )
  DrRalph | Jan 28, 2018 |
This was a very interesting book, both by itself and as an addition to the other known Heian-era diaries written by women. The author’s outlook and experience provides a contrast to the other diaries that I’ve read. Of course there are also some similarities. Like Sei Shonagon, Murasaki Shikibu and Michitsuna no Haha (authors of The Pillow Book, The Tale of Genji and Diary of Lady Murasaki, and The Gossamer Years), the author of this diary was from the provincial governor class, and her real name is unknown – she is referred to as Sarashina or Lady Sarashina, after a place rather offhandedly mentioned. Sarashina also doesn’t seem to have much knowledge of the conflicts that were active at that time. And this is another diary where readers get a lot of intimate thoughts and experiences, but not much concrete information about the author – her husband is mentioned casually, for example. But unlike Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu, Sarashina’s attempt at court service was not successful. Sometimes those two authors are criticized by the too-positive tone of their memoirs (when there was actually a lot of political infighting at the time, not to mention the rebellion against the capital), but Sarashina isn’t enthralled by court service and doesn’t have any sections of the empress favoring her or complimenting her wit. Her focus on all the clothing of the era is also minimal. She describes a number of unhappy events – mostly the deaths of family members, later her husband – but until the end, the overall tone isn’t too unhappy. While I found The Gossamer Years absorbing, it was a pretty depressing book, with the author always unhappy that her highly ranked husband (who also had another wife) never had time for her. Sarashina seems genuinely interested in the pilgrimages she takes – the author of The Gossamer Years also took many trips, but it was only to fill the unhappy times when her husband was away.

Who can resist this wonderful opening section?

“Yet even shut away in the provinces I somehow came to hear that the world contained things known as Tales, and from that moment my greatest desire was to read them for myself. To idle away the time, my sister, my stepmother, and others in the household would tell me stories from the Tales, including episodes about Genji, the Shining Prince; but, since they had to depend on their memories, they could not possibly tell me all I wanted to know and their stories only made me more curious than ever…I would perform my ablutions and, stealing into the altar room, would prostrate myself and pray fervently, ‘Oh, please arrange things so that we may soon go to the Capital, where there are so many Tales, and please let me read them all.’”

From there, Sarashina describes the family’s move from the provinces to the capital. In general, I enjoyed reading about her descriptions of places and trips. The pilgrimages that she took weren’t mainly an excuse for social events, and she doesn’t really comment on everyone she sees and the clothes that they’re wearing.

There are some unhappy events – her sister dies and she is separated from her father when he leaves the capital. Sarashina is also devastated when she learns that a woman whose handwriting she admired has died. The intro – a bit dated – suggests that she’s overemotional or something like that, but her grief doesn’t really seem out of place to me. Exchanging letters, judging poetry, and assessing someone by their handwriting were all pretty commonplace in the capital. Sarashina was still fairly young at the time, and, as a woman, she was generally secluded and communicated through writing and behind screens. Her unhappiness over the death of someone she didn’t know doesn’t seem out of character.

Sarashina describes her indifferent success at Court and one fleeting hint at romance. Her mentions of her husband are rather muted, but she is unhappy after his death. A running motif in the memoir is her dreams – she describes them as prophetic.

Sadly, towards the end, the author decides that some of her bad fortune is due to her excessive focus on tales, in a sort of Northanger Abbey way. She tries to refocus her prayers and writes a lot about her loneliness. However, the end feels like an ending – not like the piece was cut off. Certainly recommended for anyone interested in the Heian era. ( )
1 vote DieFledermaus | Jun 1, 2015 |


BirdBrian: It's such an honor to meet you, Lady Sarashina! Thank you so much for granting this rare interview.

Lady Sarashina: (nods gracefully) Happy to be here, Bird.

BirdBrian: I'm just going to offer some biographical data about you up front. You were a lady-in-waiting at the royal court in Kyoto during the Heian Era. We think you were born in the year 1008, but honestly, not much is known about you... even your name. Apparently your writing was lost to obscurity for centuries, and when it was later rediscovered, scholars gave you the posthumous pen name "Lady Sarashina" -referring to the local region Sarashina, where you came from.

Lady Sarashina: It's true. I'm fine with the moniker "Lady Sarashina"; it has more character than "Anonymous".

BirdBrian: So... this book... some translations call it Lady Sarashina's Diary, but it's not exactly a diary, is it?

Lady Sarashina: (laughs) No, I never gave it a title, but it definitely isn't a diary. I hardly mention my day-to-day life at all, except to maybe complain a little about some of the people I work with. This book is more like a loose collection of thoughts and short stories -mostly about my travels.

BirdBrian: For as little as is known about you, I was surprised to learn that you were a book reading enthusiast. I loved the passage on pages 46-47: "Oh how happy I was when I came home with all these books in a bag! In the past I had been able to have only an occasional hurried look at fragments of The Tale of Genji and much of it had remained infuritatingly obscure. Now I had it all in front of me and I could sit undisturbed behind my curtain, bent comfortably forward as I took out the books one by one and enjoyed them to my heart's content. I wouldn't have changed places with the Empress herself."

Lady Sarashina: (smiles, nodding) Yes- guilty as charged! I love books. I would definitely have been on GoodReads, if we had had such a thing.

BirdBrian: So what are your favorite kind of books?

Lady Sarashina: Well, the selection a thousand years ago wasn't nearly as broad as today, but I will admit I spend a fair amount of time gushing about The Tale of Genji. I guess that makes me a Romance reader, doesn't it?

BirdBrian: I guess so. Genji is by Lady Murasaki, who lived about a generation before you. Japanese Heian-era literature has an impressive lineup of female authors, given the poor status women were accorded back then.

Lady Sarashina: Ha, yeah- "Sista's Are Doing It for Themselves", as Annie Lennox sings. Also, my book has an introduction by Professor Morris, which explains that male writers in my day tended to write in the Chinese style, which was considered more scholarly and sophisticated back then, but sounds wholly inaccessable to readers in subsequent generations. The women of my era tended to write in the Japanese vernacular, which readers' tastes have favored over time.

BirdBrian: Interesting. I guess readers of any era can pick up on authors trying too hard to be fancy.

...So besides books, another thing you like to talk about quite a bit is your dreams. I suppose that's why somebody eventually titled this work As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams, right?

Lady Sarashina: (shrugs) I guess so; I wasn't consulted. But it's true that I liked to write down my dreams, and then later try interpreting them.

BirdBrian: (nods) The most interesting one to me was when the deceased daughter of the local mayor appeared to you, and revealed she had been reincarnated as your cat.

Lady Sarashina: Ha! I know, right? Crazy stuff. I would have never believed it myself, if she hadn't told me in person, in that dream.

BirdBrian: And then later the cat died in a housefire.



Lady Sarashina: (shaking her head at the tragedy) Burnt to a crisp, the poor dear. She had terrible luck in two lifetimes. I hope she's in a better place now.

BirdBrian: In another dream, you discover who it is you are reincarnated from...

Lady Sarashina: I do, but let's not give away all the secrets in this interview. I'll leave readers to discover that one on their own.

BirdBrian: Fair enough. Getting back to the cat, the tragedy and hardship of everyday survival seem to be an undercurrent in this entire book.

Lady Sarashina: Oh, for sure! Well, for one thing, that goes to my Buddhist upbringing. For another, my writing was a catharsis for me, dealing with the loss of my childhood nursemaid, and later the deaths of my sister and my husband.

BirdBrian: You wrote some very touching verses after your sister was burried. I just want to share one with my readers:
There in the Toribe Field
Even the smoke that rose above the pyre
Has vanished in the sky.
What traces still remained
To lead her to my sister's grave?




そこToribe分野における
薪の上に昇ったとしても煙
空に消えている。
残っていたトレースは何
私の妹の墓に彼女を導くか?




Lady Sarahina: Yes. That was about the difficulty a servant of ours had finding the grave. She was taken from us so quickly.

BirdBrian: You also write of the loss of your father- not by death, but because for four years he was posted on assignment in a distant part of the country.

Lady Sarashina: Yes, during those four years, Dad simply lived too far away, and visiting him would have required me to travel through areas famous for highway robbers and kidnappers.

BirdBrian: Your father and husband were both highly-placed civil servants, with responsibilities throughout the provences.

Lady Sarashina: Yes, that's why there is so much travel in my writing- trips to visit them. Also, I made several pilgrimages to temples and holy sites. Those trips exposured me to the rugged natural beauty of Japan's countryside. It touched me profoundly.

BirdBrian: Japan is a very beautiful country. Is there any particular passage about it you'd like to share here?

Lady Sarashina: Well, I'd say


"I pushed open my door and looked out. The ridges of the mountains shone dimly in the early light, and the tops of the trees that darkly covered the hillside were veiled with mist. These dense trees lent the cloudy sky a special charm that one would not find in blossom time or in the season of red leaves. On a nearby branch, hototogisu* was singing away..."

*hototogisu is a bird known for its cuckoo-like call


BirdBrian: Lovely. Do you mind if I close with a few more gratuitous images of natural beauty in Japan?

Lady Sarashina: I insist, and thank you for having me.

BirdBrian: Are there any closing thoughts you'd like to leave readers with?

Lady Sarashina: Buy my book! It's also got some other goodies we haven't mentioned here, like a forbidden romance, proof that I'm a more devout Buddhist than other members of the royal court, and a cool poem about two birds bathing in a puddle.

BirdBrian: Awesome. Thanks again for coming.

Lady Sarashina: My pleasure, now let's see those images!





( )
  BirdBrian | Apr 7, 2013 |
How can you not like a memoir that starts off:
"I was brought up in a part of the country so remote that it lies beyond the the end of the Great East Road. What an uncouth creature I must have been in those days! Yet even shut away in the provinces I somehow came to hear that the world contained things known as Tales, and from that moment my greatest desire was to read them for myself." ( )
  janeajones | Oct 25, 2008 |
Diary of a very minor Heian court lady, notable chiefly for its author's delightful girlish reaction to reading the Tale of Genji ( )
  antiquary | Dec 24, 2007 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lady Sarashinaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Emond, VibekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fujiwara, Sadaietranscribersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ito, MoriyukiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, IvanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MunezaneCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pölkki, MiikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vos, FritsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woestijne, Joost van deDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I was brought up in a part of the country so remote that it lies beyond the end of the Great East Road.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

A thousand years ago, a young Japanese girl embarked on a journey from the wild East Country to the capital. She began a diary that she would continue to write for the next forty years and compile later in life, bringing lasting prestige to her family. Some aspects of the author's life and text seem curiously modern. She married at age thirty-three and identified herself as a reader and writer more than as a wife and mother. Enthralled by romantic fiction, she wrote extensively about the disillusioning blows that reality can deal to fantasy. The Sarashina Diary is a portrait of the writer as reader and an exploration of the power of reading to shape one's expectations and aspirations. As a person and an author, this writer presages the medieval era in Japan with her deep concern for Buddhist belief and practice. Her narrative's main thread follows a trajectory from youthful infatuation with romantic fantasy to the disillusionment of age and concern for the afterlife; yet, at the same time, many passages erase the dichotomy between literary illusion and spiritual truth. This new translation captures the lyrical richness of the original text while revealing its subtle structure and ironic meaning. The introduction highlights the poetry in the Sarashina Diary and the juxtaposition of poetic passages and narrative prose, which brings meta-meanings into play. The translators' commentary offers insight into the author's family and world, as well as the fascinating textual legacy of her work.

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Haiku summary
Sarashina’s moon
lit winter pilgrimages
won lasting merit
(MWise)

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