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The Ruined Map: A Novel [Paperback]

Kobo Abe
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 4, 2001
Of all the great Japanese novelists, Kobe Abe was indubitably the most versatile. With The Ruined Map, he crafted a mesmerizing literary crime novel that combines the narrative suspense of Chandler with the psychological depth of Dostoevsky.

Mr. Nemuro, a respected salesman, disappeared over half a year ago, but only now does his alluring yet alcoholic wife hire a private eye. The nameless detective has but two clues: a photo and a matchbook. With these he embarks upon an ever more puzzling pursuit that leads him into the depths of Tokyo's dangerous underworld, where he begins to lose the boundaries of his own identity. Surreal, fast-paced, and hauntingly dreamlike, Abe’s masterly novel delves into the unknowable mysteries of the human mind.
Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders.

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Editorial Reviews


“A disquieting and original work of art.”–The New York Times

“A compelling tour-de-force.... A horror story of such magnitude that it stuns the mind.”–The New York Times Book Review

“An exciting, imaginative, and entertaining novel.”–San Francisco Chronicle

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Japanese

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726521
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #763,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Kobo Abe's finest writings October 15, 2000
Kobo Abe, one of the greatest surrealistic novelists, liked to depict, with the precise calculation and unconstrained freedom of mind that Picasso gave his work, entangled and precarious relatiionships between an individual and the society to which he "belongs". In "The Ruined Map", Kobo Abe casts spotlight on his lifelong motif from a different angle. Unlike his other books such as "The Box Man" and "Kangaroo Note", "The Ruined Map" is based on a relatively realistic situation. Almost all characters act apparently normally, and there seems to be nothing that makes us question sanity in the situation that surrounds them. The hero, who is a private investigator, is asked to find a young woman's husband who suddenly disappeared several months ago. He tries to find "rational explantions" of her husband's abrupt disapearance, but however, the notion of rationality soon traps him, challenging his conventional understanding of the relationship between an individual and the society. Kobo Abe explores his unique conception of identity with more restrained techniques of surrealism than in his most famous work "The Women in the Dunes". Yet, an insightful reader should realize that Abe ingeniously embedded the surrealistic subject in a realistic setting.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reversing the psychology of Woman in the Dunes. July 22, 1998
Though not as successful in achieving its aims as The Woman in the Dunes, this is still an intriguing twilight-zone type of story. A young private investigator is set on the trail of a man who, we are led to believe, has run away from his wife. The only clues are a torn piece of paper with a sketched map of where he last met someone in connection with his work. But as he carries out his investigation everything gets more and more uncertain, rather than becoming clearer. Each person he comes into contact with at the beginning of his investigation has an identity, a relation of some sort to someone else in the story, but as events unfold, each and every one of them becomes clouded in a mini-mystery of their own, until, after falling into the hands of the wrong people and receiving one hell of a beating, even the hapless investigator, who has by now lost his job and livelihood, loses his ow! n identity and is left wandering off we know not where. In some sense The Ruined Map is an attempt at a reversal of the psychological drama of The Woman in the Dunes. Rather than re-establishing his identity and fitting in in a totally bizarre environment, our hero drops out of an environment he is familiar with and apparently loses all sense of his own identity. While it is convincing, I feel that my liking for Abe's weird world is all that got me through the middle section of this book, though the odd beginning and the truly chaotic ending are very enjoyable. I suggest reading this one first before going on to The Woman in the Dunes which is all round a better read.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Kobo Abe became famous with his first novel, The Woman In The Dunes. He deserved the fame. Though written in a very simple style, The Woman In The Dunes has an unworldly atmosphere, simultaneously beautiful and frightening. Its premise is not very realistic, but the description makes it very convincing.

Unfortunately, a man can only write a book like that once, when he is young. After The Woman In The Dunes, Abe became the most prominent avant-garde novelist in Japan. But from that point on, his books became increasingly uninspired and similar to one another. The Ruined Map (1967), The Box Man (1973), and The Ark Sakura (1984) have different storylines, but eventually it becomes obvious that, fundamentally, the three novels are exactly the same.

Every Abe novel after The Woman In The Dunes revolves around some kind of search. The main character is looking for something, or other people lead him to look for something. Abe rarely reveals why it's so important to find this thing, or even what it is. But Abe is a very vague author. His characters talk in oblique hints. It is almost never explained just what they're hinting at. If this irritates you, then you probably won't like Abe's books.

In his vague search, the main character runs into the same three people:

1. "The Helpless Femme Fatale"

This archetype is the main female character in an Abe book. She is usually described sympathetically, as being feminine and vulnerable. However, she also serves to draw the main character into some kind of crisis from which he cannot escape. Abe sometimes drops vague hints that she knows more than she lets on, but this matter is never adequately clarified.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Truly mind-bending! October 21, 2003
Surrealism is not really my cup of tea, but I did enjoy reading this book, which treads on slightly firmer grounds of realism than Abe's other works. The structure is certainly interesting, as the reader is given as few clues to understand the story as the protagonist has in his case, and things get progressively more confusing and unclear. The whole thing has a dreamlike quality to it. I can't say I loved it, but if you are looking for a challenging and slightly avant-garde read with a surrealist bent then this is worth a try.
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