Lightning in April


Heen says: A few posts ago I mentioned that I met a girl who was reading the Tale of Genji. This is a book I started about ten years ago but never finished and to be quite honest I was getting bogged down in all those samurais and courtesans so I gave up. I’d always meant to start again but I didn’t actually have the book to start with and it’s such a massive thing anyway I thought I’d leave it till I’m retired and living in a nursing home with a blanket round my knees and a gin and tonic on the coffee table and if they don’t let me have gin and tonics in that particular nursing home I’ll move to another one because I hate cocoa which is what they usually let old people drink at least in Europe so come to think of it I should spend the last few years of my life in the Philippines or Borneo or somewhere exotic like that where my hard-earned savings will go further and nobody will mind if I guzzle gin all day and I could have a cute little nurse to tuck me in at night on my kang.

Heen's cosy kang

Heen's cosy kang





But why wait, I thought. I could start Genji now and, if I eke it out prudently, it should last until I’m ginfully esconced in my Philippine hidey hole. So I got hold of the book and was actually disappointed to find it’s not really all that long. Just a thousand pages. So I’d have to read a mere two sentences every other day for it to last me till my corporeal demise. Hmmm.


What the hell. I’ll start now, who knows, I might get struck by lightning in April and never find out what happens to Prince Koremitsu, who had such a promising future when I left him ten years ago. (I think he was going to sign for Arsenal.)


My version of the Tale of Genji is in English. Sheen has a version in Japanese that she purloined in Jimbocho a few years ago, and I’ve tried to read it but it takes me ages to fathom out what’s going on. Sheen has read it, though, and rates it as one of her favourite books alongside “The Pillars of the Earth” and “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”. No, wait, sorry, that’s Soraya.


Anyway. I’ve decided to read the English version while Sheen rereads the Japanese version. We are going to read in synchrony and swap notes. The plan is to read two hours a day, nibbling ginger-and-seaweed biscuits and sipping green tea, as Soraya entertains us on the shakuhachi and the shamisen.


We may well post regular bulletins updating our fanbase on our progress. But I don’t think we’ll bother.



Sheen says: You know how I told you a few weeks ago that when Heen gets something into his head he gets obsessed with it? (And no, I’m not referring to that weary melodramatic dross with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman.) Well, now he’s set on reading Monogatari Genji and has devised a schedule every day whereby I’m supposed to read the book in Japanese while he reads it in English.


I’ve already read it and it was all right but I don’t really want to read it again, especially as I have to read exactly the same number of pages as Heen every day so that we can “check our appreciation”. I mean, come on, it sounds like what they used to do in Chinese schools with the works of Mao Zedong. And, to make matters worse, he’s dragged Soraya into this lark – dressed like a geisha, she is going to play the flute or something. Needless to say, she is looking forward to it extraordinarily. She wanted to borrow my kogaru sailor suit but I put my foot down.

Soraya showing off

Soraya showing off



Heen hates green tea as much as I do, but he’s determined to get to like it. It was the same with coriander – he used to loathe it but ate it every day until he learned to love it. I tell you, my brother is hard work sometimes.


My only hope is that after half a dozen chapters he will lose interest or get struck by lightning in April.




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Klutzman on February 10, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    What a splendid idea. May I join you? I have read Monogatari Genji several times and I would love to read it “in synchrony”, as you say, with you. I was slightly disappointed that you at no time mention the author of this work, Murasaki Shikibu. I don’t know which English translation Heen is planning to read, but I strongly recommend the one by Royall Tyler. And one request: are you thinking of uploading the video of you reading, whilst Soraya plays the shamisen? Ganbatte, tomodachi-tachi!


  2. Posted by zaragozatwins on February 10, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Heen says: Konnichi wa, Klutzman-san. Sorry for not mentioning the author; you’re quite right,it is an unforgiveable oversight. It would indeed an honour if you were to harmonise your reading of the Tale of Genji with Sheen and me. What’s more, I would be thrilled if this could actually become a global “Genji-yomu”, whereby readers around the world could participate in a simultaneous enjoyment of this classic, reflect on its literary merits and its humanistic merit as a message to mankind/womankind in favour of aesthetic delight and respect for extra-ethnic historicity. The Zaragoza Twins thus invite all readers to burn any copies they have of anything written by Noah Gordon, Ken Follett or Jean Auel, and sink into the floating world of Murasaki Shikibu.


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