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Japanese book review: The Tale of Genji
Japanese book review: The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji (Genji no monogatari, 源氏の物語) is the world’s first full-length novel, written between 1000 and 1012 by Shikibu Murasaki, also known as Lady Murasaki. It’s a behemoth of a book, with 54 chapters and around 1,300 pages in the English translations. In this The tale of Genji book review, I will show you a quick overview of this book for you to find out if this book is right for you.

As its title implies, this book tells the tale of Genji, a prince-turned-commoner playboy. The book focuses mainly on his life and his numerous love affairs, but there are also a bunch of other mini storylines with 400 other characters. 

The Tale of Genji review

For me, the real charm of the book was its setting: Japanese aristocratic society in the Heian period. Having lived in that period herself as a court lady, Lady Murasaki is able to give the reader a full, detailed account of what life was like in those days: court life, town life, relationships, hierarchy, philosophy, gender roles, class differences, and more. 

An additional bonus of the book is its female characters. Prior to reading The Tale of Genji, I’d assumed that the female characters wouldn’t have large, varied or meaningful roles to play, given the time period it was written in and the fact that it’s a story about a playboy’s love/sexcapades.

But, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there are undoubtedly some questionable events in the book (arguably the most infamous event is one where Genji kidnaps and sleeps with an underage girl), there are many female characters who have a larger role to play than just as Genji’s lover.

They have their own unique personalities, occupations and goals, and they’re not just there to drive Genji’s story, but their own. For a story that was written over a thousand years ago, The Tale of Genji is surprisingly modern and feminist.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a huge book and it may be hard for some to get through. But, if you’re a fan of Japanese literature, or if you just want something different to read, then give this a shot. If you read a chapter a day, you’ll be done in a little under two months!


Book length: ~1,300 pages

Price: Around 10USD, Free shipping

Genre: Fiction, romance, drama, historical

Recommended for: People interested in Japanese literature, history or culture

The Tale of Genji book

If you’re interested in checking out The Tale of Genji, you can grab it through amazon here and start reading!

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