THE TALES OF THE HEIKE by Haruo Shirane
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THE TALES OF THE HEIKE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Intriguing, mini-sagas of samurai derring-do and nimble wit, with a distinctly Buddhist flavor.

Garbed in fabulous gear—“black-laced armor over a dark blue battle robe”—the 15th-century Japanese warrior monk Jomyo Meishu of Tutsui, in the blink of an eye, nails 20 men with his bow and arrow. A cunning chancellor ferrets out court conspiracies by infiltrating 300 teenagers, “the Rokuhara lord’s short-haired boys,” into the populace to spy on subversives. The wondrous champion dancer Gio, realizing that “we are mere sojourners in this life” turns her back on glamour and, retreating to a mountain sanctuary, spends the rest of her days reciting the name of the Buddha. Such are the facets of this jewel of a collection, compiling warrior tales, told by blind lute minstrels, that form the basis of No and Kabuki drama. Intended to laud and lament the courageous fallen, the adventure yarns are permeated often with an elegiac, wistful air, a resigned sense that “what flourishes must fade.” Fans of classic Asian literature, especially of the world’s first novel, Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji, will recognize the fastidious attention to detail here—the cut of the clothes, the nuanced etiquette, the lyrical language—that contrasts these stories with their Western counterparts, either Homeric or Arthurian. What also distinguishes these tales is the poignant tension between the hero’s inspiring quest for glory and his ultimate realization—perhaps even more inspiring—that any transitory glory is only another form of attachment: the chief adversary of Buddhist enlightenment. An excellent introduction, tracing the genre’s historical context, and a complete glossary of characters make this edition invaluable not only for aficionados of Japanese writing but for all students of myth.

Terrifically exciting and spiritually rich.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-231-13802-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2006




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