The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon translated by Arthur Waley

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century JapanThe Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon: The Diary of a Courtesan in Tenth Century Japan by Sei Shōnagon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Originally published May 12th, 2015

*Jedi hand gesture* This is not the book you’re looking for.

I know it says the author is Sei Shonagon, but only on the most technical terms. The book is heavily edited by translator Arthur Waley. To the point where this version is a quarter of the length of the original version, which I had the good fortune to stumble across many years ago. In several places Waley states “Shonagon’s reply…contains puns and ingenuities, which it would be tedious to explain.” (p40)
Tedious to explain. For brevity’s sake I will refrain from ranting and simply state that if you are the translator it’s your job to translate, not critique. A good translator should be invisible. Fortunately, Waley was not the only translator to tackle The Pillow Book. Ivan Morris and Meredith McKinney present full length versions and somehow manage to stave off boredom from the tedium of explaining Shonagon’s many puns and ingenuities.  Definitely track down one of those novels, otherwise you’ll miss out on Shonagon’s wit and wisdom.

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