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Where would we be without the words of Japanese women?

In Japan, female writers are stars within the country’s literary sphere, even if on the international stage their light seems to pale in comparison to the post-war wave of recognized, male writers such as Yukio Mishima (1925-70) or Haruki Murakami.

The contributions of female writers to Japan’s tradition of literature is immense. Looking through history, there are a number of examples of female writers who have outlasted their male compatriots to embed themselves in the annals of the present. While male writers such as Mishima and Murakami are deserved in their celebration, so too must we look toward Japan’s female canon.

Female Japanese writers have already proved their staying power. The two most famous works in classical literature during the Heian Period (794-1185) were both penned by women: “The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu and “The Pillow Book” by Sei Shonagon. As with the beginnings of other literary traditions around the world, Japan, too, has its war epics (most notably the anonymously penned “The Tale of the Heike”), but ultimately it is the work of these women on the sidelines of the era that has proved most enduring.

Both “The Tale of Genji” and “The Pillow Book” illuminate court life; the intrigues and strategic maneuvering off the battlefield that defined the Heian Period in an arguably more complete, more complex rendering than the stark absolutes of war. “The Tale of Genji” is considered the world’s first novel; “The Pillow Book” showcases a distinctive Japanese genre, a blend of essays, lists, poetry and vignettes mimicking fragmented thought called zuihitsu, a style still popular today.

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Why do we love Japanese fiction so much when it is so elusive?

Japanese fiction needs to be read slowly. It deserves that. You cannot rush through it – even if it is a crime pot-boiler or a love story. It needs patience. Like a good brewed cup of tea. The beauty of Japanese fiction sometimes is only best understood when you read more and more of it and do not generalise it as one flooded by suicides or dark plots.

My introduction to Japanese fiction began when I was sixteen and picked up my first Yukio Mishima. Mishima’s works are dense, full of longing and, yes, suicides as well, talking of a Japanese era gone by – one of aristocrats and empires and emperors. His books are one of a kind – The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy is epic in its scope and story-telling. Moreover, the translation is just perfect. And that is where my love for Japanese literature took place.

Yasunari Kawabata is another underrated Japanese writer in my opinion. He wrote only a dozen books in all, most of them not even translated into English.But the ones that have been are small gems of brilliant literature. His language is simple and subtle, almost like haikus. Reading him is like enjoying a cup of sake and not being too greedy about it as even one cup satiates the mind and soul.

Kawabata wrote of the social issues of his time. A love story between a Tokyo dilettante and a Geisha is depicted beautifully in Snow Country, while one more ill-fated love story appears in Thousand Cranes. Kawabata’s short stories are full of eroticism (which is not in your face) and desire that stems and grows. In short, he is one writer I would urge you to read.

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The maiden novels of Indian languages

By Karthik Venkatesh

The Marathi and Kannada word for novel is “kadambari”. It’s an interesting choice of word and, presumably, the word probably gained currency only in the 19th century. Prior to that, it is unlikely that a word for “novel” existed in many Indian languages since the novel itself made its appearance in India only in the 19th century.
Some experts are of the opinion that Banabhatta’s Sanskrit work Kadambari, penned in the seventh century, was probably the first novel written in an Indian language. Others put Kadambari in an oxymoronic category that is much-contested: the prose poem.
World literature experts have put it out that the world’s first novel is an 11th century Japanese work, The Tale of Genji. The Marathi and Kannada words are perhaps a little gesture of defiance that sought long before our current times to claim that Indians were the first at something. In this case, it’s the novel! Read more
Source: Live Mint

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Review: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

GenjiRecognized as the world’s first novel, Murasaki Shikibu’s “The Tale of Genji” is a spiraling epic that encompasses a beautifully complex portrayal of 11th-century Japanese Imperial Court life.

Penned by a noblewoman, the novel starts with the birth of Genji, the “Shining Prince,” a son of an emperor. Although much of the book follows Genji’s growth and later exhaustive amorous pursuits, don’t expect a straightforward line of action. Also acknowledged for its psychological study, the novel continues its contemplation of aristocratic society after Genji dies, with the final quarter of the novel presenting the exploits of another young prince, revealing the superiority of Genji by comparison.

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