"The Tale of Genji" by Murasaki Shikibu is recognized as the world's first true novel. Written in the late 10th or early 11th century, it is a story of the life of "Genji", who is the son of an Emperor of Japan in the 9th century. Known as "The shining Prince", the story follows Genji's exploits over the course of his lifetime. The book gives insight into the lifestyle of a young, strikingly handsome prince who is revered by those he comes in contact with.
The true author, known as Murasaki Shikibu, was the daughter of a governor of several provinces. She is recognized as writing the entire tale, which consists of 54 chapters in its original format. Because all of the original versions were handwritten, the version we know of today are edited and compiled from multiple versions that were copied from the original, copied by an unknown scholar during the 13th century.
The story gives insight as to royal life during the time period. Its unabashed views of the lifestyle of Genji, and those around him, do not spare the reader of the downsides of royal life. In fact, much of what is portrayed in the book could be considered scandalous in nature, given the positions of importance many of the characters in the book have in Japanese society of that time period.
What strikes me as fascinating with this book is the obvious parallels to the life and human nature of those who live in today's world. The real life drama and adventure presented in this novel is compelling, if not somewhat scandalous. It is an absolutely compelling read, considering the time period it was written in, and it provides a fascinating look into the formality of royal life of the time period. The details are immaculate, and the romanticism of the era, even if somewhat misguided, are enough to make the most stoic reader feel the emotions of the characters in the book.
The many references to poetry, music, and writing styles are reminiscent of the way Japan imported much of its early style and influence from the Chinese and Koreans. Reading this book is like reading a history novel, but from the standpoint of being part of history. It is an excellent supplement to college level history classes, which is how I came to read it myself.
This book by far stands on its own when compared to other novels, if not for the quality of the content, then simply for consideration of the time period it was written in. The sheer detail and manner of writing are second to none, and rivals the quality of the product of today's writers. I would definitely recommend it to others, and I would absolutely without hesitation rate this as one of the better novels I have read.