Friday, October 31, 2014

G452 The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan

Title of the book:The Gossamer Years; The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan

Author: Michitsuna no haha

Publisher: Tuttle

Publishing Date: 1964/ written from around 954 up to 975

ISBN: 978-0-8048-1123-1


Kagero Nikki, translated here as The Gossamer Years, belongs to the same period as the celebrated Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikuibu.

This remarkably frank autobiographical diary and personal confession attempts to describe a difficult relationship as it reveals two tempestuous decades of the author's unhappy marriage and her growing indignation at rival wives and mistresses. Too impetuous to be satisfied as a subsidiary wife, this beautiful (and unnamed) noblewoman of the Heian dynasty protests the marriage system of her time in one of Japanese literature's earliest attempts to portray difficult elements of the predominant social hierarchy. A classic work of early Japanese prose, The Gossamer Years is an important example of the development of Heian literature, which, at its best, represents an extraordinary flowering of realistic expression, an attempt, unique for its age, to treat the human condition with frankness and honesty. A timeless and intimate glimpse into the culture of ancient Japan, this translation by Edward Seidensticker paints a revealing picture of married life in the Heian period.

What is it?

Just like The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, this is a diary from Heian Era of Japan, although unlike Sei Shonagon and Murasaki, this diary takes place prior to when they got to shine, and I can't help but get the feeling that it influenced Murasaki Shikibu a lot.

Who wrote or made it?

A noblewoman by the name of Michitsuna no haha (Mother of Michitsuna) has written this diary of her marriage to the Prince by name of Kaneie.

When was it written or made?

The diary was written from 954 and stops at 975. The diary does provide small education to the Heian Era culture, but I think a lot of it still needs to be learned.

Where was it written or made?

It was written in Japan during the Heian Era, prior to Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu.

How was it written or made?

The diary is divided into three "books," the first one taking place from 954 up until 968, the second from 969 up until 971 and the last 972 up until 974. The first book is the shortest, while the last two are longer.

Personal Opinion:

There are parts of the diary that I enjoyed such as poetry and nature descriptions, but I have to admit that her writing pales when comparing her to Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu. I do think that she did influence Tale of Genji, in particular the locust episode, or when the Prince wrote a long response to the author along with her adopting a girl. What I found a bit annoying is the endnotes. I am sorry, but I'm not a fan of endnotes and often prefer footnotes to endnotes. I also got an impression that I would learn a lot about Heian Era marriage from her diary, but unfortunately I barely learned anything about the era straight from the diary, although the supplemental information added by the translator is very helpful. PS, love the cover.

I would like to thank Tuttle Publishing for providing me the copy of The Gossamer Years; The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan of Michitsuna no haha translated by Edward Seidensticker 

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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