Dalby, an anthropologist specializing in Japanese culture (Geisha, 1983), has used her professional background and eye for detail to create her debut fiction: the “autobiography” of the woman who wrote the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji. Lady Murasaki Shikibu was by all accounts an unconventional figure in 11th-century Japan. Filled with imagination and curiosity, she despised the constraints placed on the women of her time. She escaped by creating a dashing, romantic figure, Prince Genji, and spinning tales of his escapades to amuse herself, her friends, and her family. The stories soon became the talk of the Heian court, and its regent, Michinaga, implored Murasaki to join that court as his unofficial scribe. Dalby, who spent ten years researching her story in order to accurately reconstruct the period, captures every nuance of court life, from wonderful descriptions of the courtiers’ dress to the poetic conversation (waka) they engaged in. Meanwhile, she seamlessly incorporates Murasaki's actual poetry and dialogue throughout the text as a foundation for her own compelling portrait of Japan's most famous author. Dalby's style faithfully mimics that of the original Genji, yet the result never seems stilted or outdated.
A surprisingly modern portrait that will strike a chord with contemporary readers, even as it effortlessly transports them to Murasaki’s uniquely exotic world.