The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby

The Tale of Murasaki by Liza DalbyMurasaki was a novelist, poet, and servant of the imperial court during the Heian period of Japan. She was the author of The Tale of Genji, written in Japanese in 1010, one of the earliest and most famous novels in human history. The Tale of Murasaki is a fictional biography, based in part on her surviving diaries and poems. The book chronicles her adult life, with emphasis on the period before her marriage and the time she spent in court serving the empress of Japan. The book contains Murasaki’s careful descriptions of the highly refined manners, clothing and attitudes of Heian Japanese society. It give the reader a glimpse of the exotic culture of a thousand years ago in which upper class ladies hid behind screens and fans with only their long elaborate sleeves or trains showing. A world in which lovers conversed in poetry and ritual was valued above all.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This was a beautiful and fascinating book -replete with actual quotations from Murasaki’s diary by people who lived in the 11th century. We were astonished by the differences in mannerisms and morals shown by everything from the multi-layered robes, incense preparation and tooth blackening to the casual attitude toward sexual relations. The poetry and the descriptions of natural settings were lovely. We were interested in the lack of contact with or consideration of persons in the lower orders -such as the multitude of seamstresses, cooks, servants and litter carriers that must have been required to keep such a rarefied society functioning. Recommended reading.

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