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The first novel ever written

words from the 11th century

I don't know about you, but I tend to read according to my mood (dark, optimistic, anxious, in need of a brain massage etc...) as opposed to what may be currently trending or what is on the latest bestseller list (unless there is something to satisfy my mood at that time). Another characteristic of my reading habits is that I tend to read in bulk. For example, when I started in on John Irving I spent the next few months on John Irving exclusively. And after visiting Ireland and its wonderful bookshops and being educated by an enthusiastic employee, I loaded up on Frank McCourt, Sally Rooney, Iris Murdoch, Maeve Binchy and rediscovered James Joyce for that entire fall and winter. You get the picture.

As an aside, I want to mention that Japan has always fascinated me. It is one of the few destinations that I haven't yet had the pleasure of experiencing. Its modernity flanked by an ancient culture is reason alone to pack up and get going as soon as possible. And of course from a purely aesthetic point of view there are: the cherry blossoms and azaleas, silks and ceramics, gardens and pagodas, art and food preparation with an acute attention to detail. So after viewing, Memoirs of a Geisha, it only stands to reason that I would enter a reading frenzy on all that is Japanese.

Some of my favourites from this time are:

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (one of the best recommendations ever by a friend)

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki that reads like Hemingway in its clean unadorned style

Silk by Alessandro Baricco which I liken to a song or poetry

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng that is full of mystery, magic and tradition

The book that put me over the edge

And then comes the book that made me go bonkers with excitement! The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby is about the life of the author who wrote the first ever novel back in the eleventh century. I mean the first novel, written by a woman back in the eleventh century! Of course I had to get my hands on a copy.

Lady Murasaki wrote the first ever world's novel in the eleventh century, during the Heian period. It is entitled , The Tale of Genji and is considered the most popular work in the history of Japanese literature. It is about the romantic adventures of her character, the beautiful Prince Genji. Initially she wrote for and shared her story only with an intimate circle of friends, but when the Regent discovered her talents she was moved into the Imperial Palace where she entertained the Empress and other members of the Royal Court with her tale. And it is through this ancient work that we are able to learn about Japanese Imperial life as well as life outside the Palace. Over 1000 pages long, this epic and personal story, describes in detail the customs, dress codes, food, drink, aesthetics and poetry of the time. Murasaki Shikibu takes us into private chambers, beautiful gardens and harsh lands, we witness Royal births and deaths, competitiveness, jealousy, love and hate, familial ties and forbidden acts side by side with those living it.

Since The Tale of Genji was written 1000 years ago in archaic language and poetic style it needed to be translated for public modern consumption. The first translation, undertaken, in the the early 20th century, by the poet Akiko Yosano opened the door for future translations, of which there have been many. However, the main ones are by Arthur Waley, Edward Siedensticker and Royall Tyler. Tyler's copy is the one I have purchased seeing as it is the most recent and has been cited as the most readable. My copy has just arrived and I cannot wait to get started. I am looking forward to talk about this epic tale with any and all who have already completed The Tale of Genji, once I have read it. To be continued...

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