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Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Woman in the Dunes (original 1962; edition 1991)

by Kobo Abe

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1,917403,574 (3.83)1 / 127
Title:Woman in the Dunes
Authors:Kobo Abe
Info:Vintage (1991), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe (1962)

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English (36)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Niki Junpei, tired of living the same routine with no purpose in his life, leaves for a vacation and never returns. He intends to find an undiscovered beetle by the sea and earn himself a place in encyclopedias by its discovery and thus justify the significance of his life. However, after he passes through a small, poor village and sees a number of deep holes with houses at the bottom, an old man comes up to him and asks him what he is doing.

After the old man realizes Junpei isn’t a government inspector, he offers him lodging in a dilapidated house at the bottom of one of the holes. Junpei climbs down the rope ladder and meets a woman in her thirties, who welcomes him and makes him dinner. At night, he’s surprised to find that she shovels the sand that has accumulated in the hole into cans that are then hauled up by crews at the top. He offers to help, but after he realizes she does this monotonous task all night, every night, he loses patience and goes into the house to sleep.

The next morning, he finds the rope ladder has been removed and as the sand walls can’t be climbed without it, he has been trapped. Uncertainty gives way to fear and then rage, as the woman explains that she needs another person to help her dig out the sand every night, protecting the village houses from collapsing under sand slides. He becomes dehydrated trying to climb the wall in the unbearable heat, falls, hurts his shoulder, and passes out. He recovers after a few days and takes her hostage, hoping the villagers will let him go in exchange for her safety, and when that doesn’t work he doesn’t let her work on the sand walls so the village will be in danger. But, he has to give up that plan because they ran out of water and have to ask the village for more.

His other plan to escape almost succeeds, as he manages to climb out of the hole with some rope that he made and walks towards the road, but he loses his sense of direction and ends up walking right into the center of the village. They catch him later when he runs into a sand sinkhole, and calls for help. After that attempt, the months pass and he and the woman work on the sand walls without escaping. She strings and sells beads to earn money for a radio, and he works on a project to catch a crow, hoping to tie a note to its foot and let it go. Despite the daily work that they accomplish, Junpei feels that he is deceiving himself and can’t stand living in the hole.

Although his trap doesn’t work, he does discover he can collect water from the dampness in the ground and save it in the bucket. With their radio, he listens to the weather reports and keeps a record of rainfalls and his average collection, so that one day they can hold out digging for the village in exchange for their freedom, or some other ploy. In the spring, however, the woman realizes she’s pregnant and it turns out she has an extra-uterine pregnancy, requiring the villagers to take her to a doctor. They leave the rope ladder hanging down the wall and Junpei climbs up, then sees his water project and, realizing he wants to show it someday to someone who will appreciate his work, climbs back down into the hole and waits. ( )
  bostonwendym | Aug 27, 2016 |
'The sand...ten or twenty feet pile up in a night no matter what you do'
By sally tarbox on 12 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
A totally gripping read: a Japanese insect-collector goes off to spend his holiday in the sand-dunes, hoping to find some new species which will bear his name:'his efforts are crowned with success if his name is perpetuated in the memory of his fellow men by being associated with an insect'.
When night falls, he is forced to seek shelter, and is offered a room in a rickety house with a young widow, down a dune, accessible only by rope ladder. When day dawns, he finds the ladder has been removed, and he is expected to spend his nights assisting the woman in loading buckets with sand, otherwise her house (and the village) will be overwhelmed with sand.
I was dubious about the cover's calling it 'Kafkaesque' and 'existential'. would it be too deep for this reader to get the meaning? The answer is no, it's very accessible. As our insect-collector gets used to the awful surroundings, he begins to comprehend how the villagers stay in this god-forsaken spot:
'He could easily understand how it was possible to live such a life. There were kitchens...blaring radios and broken radios...and in the midst of them all were scattered hundred-yen pieces, domestic animals, children, sex, promissory notes, adultery, incense burners, souvenir photos, and...It goes on, terrifyingly repetitive. One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.'
Caught up in the minutiae of life: whether it's work, like a hamster on a wheel; sensual enjoyments; materialistic ambition (the woman aspires to buy a radio); or engrossing if ultimately futile pastimes (the man finds new insects in his dune); humans find meaning in lives which when considered dispassionately are pretty pointless.
Exciting and thought-provoking, this was a great read. ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
fabulous and very unique story ( )
  vernefan | Jun 6, 2016 |
Tedious, exhausting and utterly depressing. ( )
  LaPhenix | Mar 8, 2016 |
A simple yet surreal story which emits a claustrophic and ominous atmosphere with an overwhelming sense of helplessness and disempowerment pervading throughout. How can it be that a man trapped in a house in a hole in some sand dunes could hold ones attention for 239 pages? How can it feel so dreamlike yet realistic at the same time? Abe has a talent of making what could be the mundane and drab into something chilling and emotive. He immediately drew me in. I wasn't always sure about what the protagonist was saying and there are some sentences that had me scratching my head. However, I just let those wash over me and all became clearer. This was my first foray into the world of Kobo Abe but it certainly won't be the last. ( )
  lilywren | Sep 18, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kōbō Abeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abe, MachiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saunders, E. DaleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One day in August a man disappeared.
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Es gibt wahrhaftig kein wunderlicheres, so von Neid zerfressenes Wesen wie einen Schullehrer! Da strömen die Schüler Jahr für Jahr gleich einem Fluß an ihm vorbei, nur er selber bleibt wie ein tief auf dem Grund des Flusses liegender Stein zurück. Er kann wohl anderen von Hoffnungen erzählen, aber ihm selber sind sie nicht erlaubt. Er kommt sich nutzlos vor und verfällt entweder in selbstquälerischen Trübsinn oder wird ein Moralprediger, der anderen vorschreiben will, wie sie zu leben haben. Eigenwilligkeit und Tatkraft anderer müssen ihm schon deswegen zuwider sein, weil er selber sich aus tiefster Seele danach sehnt.
"... Schriftsteller werden zu wollen, bedeutet, von Egoismus besessen zu sein; man will sich von einer Marionette dadurch unterscheiden, daß man selber als Puppenspieler in Erscheinung tritt. Insofern unterscheidet man sich nicht wesentlich von Frauen, die ein Make-up benutzen."

"Das ist zu hart formuliert! Aber wenn sie schon das Wort Schriftsteller in diesem Sinne gebrauchen, sollten Sie wenigstens bis zu einem gewissen Grad zwischen einem Schriftsteller und dem Schreiben unterscheiden!"

"Ja, genau das meine ich. Eben aus diesem Grund wollte ich Schriftsteller werden. Und wenn mir das nicht gelingt, sehe ich nicht ein, weshalb ich schreiben sollte!"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679733787, Paperback)

This beautiful novel by one of Japan's most important writers is also one of the most strangely terrifying and memorable books you'll ever read. The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town. An amazing book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this famous postwar Japanese novel, the first of Abe's to be translated into English, Niki Jumpei, an amateur entomologist in pursuit of a rare specimen of beetle, wanders into a strange seaside village, whose residents all live in sandpits. He is taken prisoner, and, along with a widow cast out by the community, he is forced to move into her sandpit and continually shovel away the sand that threatens to take over the village. In Niki's struggles to escape his prison and his developing relationship with the woman, he gradually comes to understand the existential nature of life.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Average: (3.83)
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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