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The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel by Liza Dalby

The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Liza Dalby

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Title:The Tale of Murasaki: A Novel
Authors:Liza Dalby
Info:Anchor (2001), Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:trade paperback, fiction, adult, good, historical, literature, japan

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The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby (2000)



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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
While the book is interesting in that it is full of period detail, the story drags pretty badly. I enjoyed the insight into a writer's mind, but found the constant repetition of "I wanted to write, but I couldn't because I had to do this instead" pretty dull after a while. There are too many characters who are more like names that are occasionally dropped until suddenly the character comes to visit and the reader is told that this character is very important to the narrator, which is rather hard to believe, as they never appear again. I also had a hard time bringing myself to care what happened to the rather insipid narrator, Fuji (Murasaki), who seems to be forever complaining and making poor choices. I also found the narrator selfish despite her continual self-sacrifice. It seemed she managed to hang onto a lot of things that she found important, such as her character Genji and even her own reputation as a blender of incense, but, though she claims her daughter is her most precious treasure, the poor little girl is pretty much abandoned. I guess I might be biased on this because I have a tiny little daughter myself and I cannot understand how anything on Earth could induce me to treat her in such a fashion. It especially irked me that, despite seeing how unhealthy life at court was for women especially, the narrator purposefully raises her daughter up to be the ultimate courtier. And to top it off, she tricks the poor girl into thinking they will be together at last, only to run off to become a nun and leave her daughter to find her own way through the intrigues Murasaki herself apparently so despised.
Despite all of this, reading about Murasaki's changes to her "Shining Prince" as she becomes older, wiser, and of course sadder, and the way that these changes may have reflected her own life experiences was interesting. Seeing her grow from a writer of idealized romance to a shrewd observer of human nature with all of its failings makes the book worth finishing. The final story is fascinating and makes me want to read all of her work. Now to find translations in English...that's going to probably be a lot harder overall than dragging myself through this book was! ( )
  aurelas | Dec 23, 2016 |
Detailed depiction of life in 11th century Japan. With writing as an outlet for our main character - a woman we get glimpses of as she makes her way through life. She writes poetry, a diary and a huge novel and her actual writing flows in/around this historical novel about her. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
A fictional account of the life of the writer of Tale of Genji. Good stuff.
Read Nov 2004 ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 30, 2015 |
The book was well written, and the descriptions of 11th century Japan were beautiful and very well researched, but I found the story as a whole incredibly boring. ( )
  Jspig | Aug 30, 2013 |
I picked this book up only because it was historical fiction and I did enjoy "Memoirs of a Geisha"; however, this is much different and at first I was rather disappointed. I didn't particularly like the first person narrative and what I thought of as the "weird little phrases" of poetry interspersed, but I kept reading. I was soon pulled in and could not put it down. Not that I especially liked the character of Muraski, but I so enjoyed the visit to 11th century Japan.

I agree with those that remarked on the lack of background regarding the politics and religion that shape this novel, but I didn't find it overwhelming. Instead, it spurred my interest to investigate further.

It is hard to judge the qualities of characters that are living in a world so far from our own. The exchanges of "waka" seem bizarre at first, but I actually found myself looking at my own surroundings (especially nature) in a new light. Although the author, I felt, was too detailed, too wordy (especially in the long descriptions of colors and kimonos), we could all learn something about saying so much in so few words.

How enthralling to briefly inhabit a world without time;

how much my time has changed. ( )
1 vote maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385497954, Paperback)

Liza Dalby's novel is a brilliantly imagined chronicle of the 11th-century Japanese writer Murasaki Shikibu. As we soon discover, our narrator has a good many doubts about the writing life. "As I pondered this question of how to be a success at court," she muses, "I came to the conclusion that literary ambition was more likely than not to bring a woman to a bad end." Happily, the real-life Murasaki persisted, and went on to become the author of the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji. For The Tale of Murasaki, Dalby draws on this groundbreaking masterpiece and on the surviving fragments of Murasaki's own diary and poetry, along with another masterpiece of the Heian period, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. The result is a vivid and emotionally detailed portrait of an intelligent, sensitive, and complex woman.

In Dalby's novel, Murasaki writes her first stories about Prince Genji's amorous encounters in order to entertain her friends, and to express her own creative temperament. As the stories gain a wider public, however, they are transformed into a conduit for observations on the mores and intrigues of court life. And in the end, as the narrator struggles to stay true to her literary vision, her tales are inflected by Buddhist thought and become parables on the transience and beauty of the world:

I have always felt compelled to set down a vision of things I have heard and seen. Life itself has never been enough. It only became real for me when I fashioned it into stories. Yet, somehow, despite all I've written, the true nature of things I've tried to grasp in my fiction still manages to drift through the words and sit, like little piles of dust, between the lines.
Dalby is an anthropologist by trade, who has produced two previous nonfiction studies: Kimono and Geisha. And given that her research for Geisha gained her the distinction of being the only Westerner ever to have trained in that much misunderstood profession, it's no surprise that she is able to reconstruct 11th-century Japan with meticulous fidelity. It's all there--the political and sexual machinations, the preoccupations with clothing and custom, the difficult and tenuous position of courtiers, the intensity of female friendships in a male-dominated society--and the author shows us precisely how Murasaki's sensibilities were shaped by the culture in which she lived. This is a rich and convincing debut, and another chapter in the current resurrection of the historical novel. --Burhan Tufail

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:22 -0400)

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