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Becky's Book Review: The Tale of Murasaki
Contributor
Written by
Becky
December 2011
Contributor
Written by
Becky
December 2011

"The Tale of Murasaki" by Liza Dalby is an historical fiction novel based on a real Japanese writer, Lady Murasaki, who wrote the most popular book in Japanese literature. She was also a prolific poet and diary writer, and the book is based extensively on these real works.

She was the daughter of a prominent scholar, and so well-educated that she was pretty much deemed unmarriable. This didn't bother her, because she had such a mind of her own that she didn't even want to get married. She did marry though, albeit later in life, and she had quite a career in court serving with the Empress. Despite the prestige, she found the lifestyle superficial and stifling, and once her daughter was old enough to be well-settled in court, Murasaki chose to live a spiritual life near a monastery.

I found this account so touching that I felt as though I were there. The details of daily life were portrayed with the utmost attention; the colors of fabrics and flowers played a prominent role in the book. I suppose I have come to view melancholy as a purely modern affliction, but it's obvious through her poems that, even in the 11th century, Murasaki experienced profound sadness. That time period must have also been the height of Buddhism's spread in Japan, and turning to spiritual life was common, if not the norm. Yet it is no coincidence that Buddhism is seeing a resurgence now. People are becoming ever increasingly disillusioned with the world, and seeking answers to the pesky questions that our culture cannot seem to answer with to any satisfaction.

 

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