The longest book I’ve ever read was Royall Tyler’s full translation of Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.Wow is it a long book (1,216 pages).
The Tale of Genji is quite a foreign tale. It’s not that someone from western countries* couldn’t relate to the story – in some ways it’s just another man that sleeps with a lot of women. The way the story is told, the culture, and even the language is quite foreign to the modern reader from the west.
If you want to read this book, prepare yourself for ambiguous language – you may find yourself thinking, “Did he have sex with her? Or did they just talk all night? Was someone crying or was it raining?”
Prepare to be confused about who the narrator is talking about. Genji is one of few characters always referred to by the same name. There were points in the book when I simply gave up on trying to figure out exactly which character the narrator was talking about, and that’s with a character guide in the book courtesy of Tyler.
Prepare for Genji to have a lot of relationships with women, including several rather, well, creepy ones. Like the girl he raises from a young age to be his perfect wife. First, he takes her away from her family, then he behaves as her father, and eventually transforms the relationship into a romantic one**. And don’t forget all the cousins that get married!
It’s a book worth reading despite the excessive number of women Genji has relationships with and certain creepy interactions between people. I didn’t love Genji or any of the characters, but the world in which those characters live is fascinating. I found the entire book oddly fascinating.
*Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike referring to places as “western” in relation to the entire Earth? The Earth is round. Everywhere is eastern and everywhere is western. It’s kind of like when they call MN, WI, SD, ND, IL, etc. the “midwest.” What’s west about it? It’s the middle. It’d make more sense to call those states the mid-north. “Middle East” bothers me, too.
** Romantic is the only word I feel comfortable choosing. It’s not as if he uses this girl for sex and that’s it. They do develop an emotional bond. It’s creepy, though, that he basically raises her to be a perfect wife (among other wives and concubines).