Japan Fetes Genji, World's First Novel, at 1,000

Three very different English translations available to get you caught up
By Victoria Floethe,  Newser User
Posted Dec 20, 2008 6:39 AM CST

(Newser) – Japan is celebrating the 1,000th birthday of The Tale of Genji, a story penned by a woman in an imperial court that is widely regarded as the first modern novel, the Economist reports. The chronicle of an aristocratic aesthete’s sexual adventures is many things to many readers, including conservative commentators who point to Japan’s cultural sophistication over Europe’s and feminists inspired by the female author.

In feting what is “in every way Japan’s equivalent of Homer’s Iliad,” the country is awash in lectures, symposia, plays, conferences, and concerts. The reading can be tough: Murasaki Shikibu’s style can be opaque, and the subject matter includes polygamy, bisexuality, even near-incest. The Economist outlines three quite different English translations, then asks: “Effervescent Waley, prim Seidensticker or suave Tyler—who will you take to bed with you tonight?”