Someone I can’t remember once wrote that we come to books when we’re ready to appreciate them…evidently I am not ready to appreciate some books….
This is not the book I expected to be writing about. I began Book I of The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu in the Royall Tyler translation. About 50 pages in I realized that I could not make myself read it. Whether it is Tyler’s translation or the work itself, I found it impossible to stay the course. The Tale of the Genji’s focus on the life of a young prince at the emperor’s court in medieval Japan is certainly a fascinating topic. Still, 50 pages in I found myself completely unengaged.
When one reads (well, when I read), there is always that moment of absorption – that moment when one, in a psychologically satisfying way, “enters” the world of the story. Perhaps it was the artificiality of the storytelling in The Tale of the Genji; there is certainly a level of distancing in the text that reflects both the formality and the subtlety of Japanese culture. Perhaps the translation, scholarly and thorough as it is, is problematic in that it adheres to the letter of the language (in other words, it transliterates rather than translates, an ever more challenging). For whatever reason, I found that I simply bounced off Skikibu’s classic each time I attempted to enter it.
That brings us to Book II of Undset’s classic of medieval Norway. Continue reading