The crown jewel of Japanese literature, Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji, written in 1010. is the world's first novel. The novel is also the world's first juicy tell-all: Murasaki (978-circa 1014 or 1025) was a lady-in-waiting and companion to the empress at the Japanese court. The gorgeous prose masterfully follows the court and the romances of her hero, Genji, who is thought to be modeled after Heian emperor Fujiwara Michinaga. Some compare Murasaki's expression of the Heian court to that of Shakespeare's evocation of Elizabethan England. Thousands of miles from Japan, another national masterpiece was completed in the year 1010. Instead of focusing on just one king, Persia's Shahnameh mythical times through the seventh century. Almost 60,000 couplets exalting Persia's history of kings were written by the poet Ferdowsi (940-1020), from stories found in older texts. Many consider Ferdowsi's epic the most important work of Persian literature ever written.
Like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the masterpieces of Murasaki and Ferdowsi reveal ancient life and cultures to modern readers. Perhaps even more importantly, the portraits of Eastern culture provided in these novels allow a glimpse into a world where, until then, only a few Westerners had been or seen.