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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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1,935393,533 (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 (35)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
'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 |
"The woman, who had been like a patient dog, began begging with the abruptness of an umbrella turned inside out by a sudden gust of wind."

I don't think I've ever heard of anything being compared to an umbrella being turned inside out by a sudden gust of wind. Or have I?

I began reading this book with no expectations, other than the fact that a friend of mine had given me this book and said he was sure I would like it. And, in fact, I did. I don't really want to go into the existentialist nature of the material, mainly because I don't know enough of the philosophy or ideas to say anything worthwhile on the topic. So I'll just go ahead and stick to characters and plot and the usual.

"The parts that one usually covered were completely bare, while the face, which anybody would show, was concealed under a towel." The title of the book lends itself to this quote, which is when Niki Jumpei, the main character, sees the woman sleeping within the house of sand. Sand itself plays an important role in the story; it practically acts as a character as well. It symbolizes the passage of time (obviously!) like sand within an hourglass. It continually flows until it reaches the end, only to be flipped over and start the process all over again. And so the presence of the sand only serves to foreshadow what may well have been happening since the beginning, and will continue to the end, for this village. Additionally, the sand could also symbolize the erosion of all values and ethics and even common sense. By the end of the story, the sand seems to have done just that to the character, and maybe even to the reader.

Since the sand plays such an important role in the story, its purpose is entirely up to the reader to figure out. There can be a completely scientific explanation for some of the weird properties of the sand, as given by Niki, if we choose to believe. Or there may be even more behind it than meets the eye. And its this freedom to choose what you want to believe and argue (with sufficient evidence, of course)that makes me like the story so much.

Besides the sand, the only other real character in the book was Niki himself. He seemed rather one dimensional most of the time, mainly because he had only one motivation during the course of the story, and that was to escape from this hole...literally. Of course, Kōbō Abe probably did that on purpose for some existentialist reason, but like I said, I ain't no expert. As for the woman in the dunes herself, I can't really call her a character.

"But this means you exist only for the purpose of clearing away the sand, doesn't it?"

And that, there, sums up this unnamed person. No explanation needed.

And with that, I'll leave with some other quotes I like. (I'd like to also give props to my Kindle, which has allowed me to take notes or highlights anywhere I'd like without needing a pen/pencil, and finding it again easily)

Memorable quote:
"The craving for decorations, medals, tattoos, came only when one dreamed unbelievable dreams."

"Loneliness was an unsatisfied thirst for illusion." ( )
  jms001 | Jun 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (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
Gross, AlexCover artistsecondary 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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