ENVISIONING "THE TALE OF GENJI": Media, Gender, and Cultural Production, edited by Haruo Shirane. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008, 400 pp., 11 color plates, 66 b/w illustrations, $32.50 (paper)

"The Tale of Genji," Murasaki Shikibu's long monogatari, upwards of a thousand pages in translation, or some three- quarters of a million words, was written in the early 11th century and is often called the world's first novel.

It has also come to define much of Japanese culture. As the late Edward Seidensticker, one of its most persuasive translators, has written: "The Genji Monogatari has been an enormous influence on later literature and other art forms and on popular lore as well. It is one of the principal sources for the Noh drama. There have been fictional recountings and adaptations in more recent centuries, as well as adaptations for the Kabuki stage, the cinema, and television. Of several renditions into modern Japanese, more than one has become a best seller."

An international symposium investigating the enormous influence that this work has had upon Japanese culture in general was held at Columbia University in 2005. It included 21 speakers and 10 respondents from the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. The present publication contains 11 of the papers given at the conference plus a very full opening chapter by the editor: " 'The Tale of Genji' and the Dynamics of Cultural Production."