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The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
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The Woman in the Dunes (original 1962; edition 1991)

by Kobo Abe (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,562544,292 (3.82)1 / 139
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)
Member:claudecat
Title:The Woman in the Dunes
Authors:Kobo Abe (Author)
Info:Vintage (1991), Edition: Reissue, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
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The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe (1962)

  1. 100
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  5. 00
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    Liondancer: Reading the cover text, I spontaneously thought "Kafka on the shore" (not meaning the same-name book by Haruki Murakami)
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» See also 139 mentions

English (50)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Not quite as bizarre as some other Abe titles and one misses the first person narrative. The story acts as a metaphor for the routines we trap ourselves in aswell as being a broader metaphor for the Sisyphean nature of all endeavour. Abe's usual attention to technical detail is there and it's uncanny how he keeps you engaged by immersing you in the intricacies while you keep turning the pages. It's Kafkaesque in its shadowy fellow protagonists inscrutable machinations in controlling the insect collector's fate. The absurd and reflections on the meaninglessness of existence are inserted into the narrative while at the same time the protagonist harbours the illusion that order will be restored at any moment. I enjoyed it slightly lesser than The Box Man and Face of Another, it's not as intriguing or as open to interpretation as those in my view but stands as an instructive tale to set off your own reflections. ( )
1 vote Kevinred | Jun 4, 2021 |
The book’s protagonist describes his predicament of being trapped in a sand dune to do menial, Sisyphian labor “The Terrors of Ant Hell”, which, incidentally, serves as an apt description of this odd book. I tried to read his situation as a general allegory for the meaningless trappings of modern “adulthood”, but even that seemed too trite a lens. I certainly know a lot more about sand than I did going in, though, if that counts for anything, but would not recommend this to anyone else. ( )
1 vote jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
An amateur entomologist is wandering the dunes looking for rare beetles and seeks shelter for the night in a village. The elders direct him to the home of a woman whose house is in a sand pit. He′s lowered in and thus begins his captivity, endlessly shoveling to keep the house from being subsumed by sand.

At first the sand is a scientific phenomena; it′s properties, composition, and movement are discussed in an interesting, academic way. But gradually the sand becomes a character in and of itself, and its weight and endless encroachment seem deliberately menacing. It falls on the house and strains the timbers, it seeps through the ceiling and requires that the man sleep with a towel over his face, it invades every crease of clothing and skin, it gets in his mouth and eyes. It is increasingly claustrophobic both physically and psychologically.

Equally unsettling is the relationship between the the man and the woman who lives there. She is never named, and it is unclear whether she is there willingly or not. She is an amorphous being who may be a tacit jailkeeper, an ignorant dupe, a fellow prisoner, or a simple villager who has drunk the Kool-Aid. She becomes the target of the man′s anger, defiance, despair, and frustration. Her passiveness is annoying, and because her character is never fleshed out, it is hard to either sympathize with her or hate her. It makes it harder to judge the man′s treatment of her, because we don′t know what she is.

In turn, it′s not clear exactly what the novel is either. Is it a metaphor for the futility of work and life? Is it a psychological novel about a captive′s changing mindset and emotional state? Is it all a hallucination or schizophrenic nightmare?

Although I found the book unsettling and tense, I enjoyed the vivid imagery and unusual premise. I haven′t read enough Japanese literature to know how it fits into the canon thematically or style-wise, but I would recommend the book to those who enjoy Kafka or are seeking something different. ( )
  labfs39 | Mar 11, 2021 |
A wonderful Kafka-ish tale wrapped in an okay, very mid-century novel, and stuffed nearly to death with bad mid-century-existentialist 'philosophy.' The conceit is great: man gets trapped in a house amidst sand dunes; he and the woman who lives there have to continuously excavate the sand that threatens to destroy the house; he meditates ways to escape. The novelistic stuff is okay, but surprisingly recognizable as a Sixties period piece: lots of obviously unreliable free indirect and 'dramatic irony'.

The 'philosophy' is dreadful. Sex and death and existence and big themes and none of it really tied to anything interesting at all. I like lots of thought in my books, but this one made it pretty clear that for me to really care that thought has to be about something, and the so-called major themes are not something. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
Interesting book. Strange Premise. I was down that hole for the whole book looking up at the sky. I've never really been claustrophobic but I could imagine this would be a book to avoid if you were. The premise, simply put, is of a man who is held captive down a sunken shaft in the dunes where a single dwelling is constantly threatened with the engulfment of the ever blowing sand. The only thing that holds this terrible fate at bay is to spend the time digging the sand out and for your captors to hoist it away in exchange for supplies. The woman of the title is the sole occupant of the house before the arrival of the man.

I guess you could read this story as a parallel of anyone's life in any country. Whilst being a Japanese novel it's inner truth is more global. I'm glad I read it ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kōbō Abeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Abe, MachiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gross, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saunders, E. DaleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
WITHOUT THE THREAT
OF PUNISHMENT
THERE IS NO JOY
IN FLIGHT
罰がなければ、逃げるたのしみもない
Dedication
First words
One day in August a man disappeared.
八月のある日、男が一人、行方不明になった。
Quotations
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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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.

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