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The Woman in the Dunes Paperback – April 16, 1991
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“Abe follows with meticulous precision his hero's constantly shifting physical, emotional and psychological states.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“As is true of Poe and Kafka . . . Abe creates on the page an unexpected impulsion. One continues reading, on and on.”
—The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
The story begins when teacher and amateur entymologist, Jumpei Niki, decides to get away from things for awhile and searches for insects in an isolated desert region of Japan near the sea. When he realizes he's missed the last bus back to a "real" town, the local villagers offer to find him a place to stay for the night.
Although there are no hotels available, Jumpei is escorted to a rope ladder extending down into a pit in the sand. At the bottom he finds a ramshakle hut and a lone woman living in a bizarre situation; she spends the entire night, every night, shoveling sand away from her home in order to stave off her own burial and the subsequent destruction of the village. The sand is given to the villagers in return for water and other necessities, something the woman views as "community spirit."
To his horror, Jumpei awakens to find the rope laffer gone and discovers he's been targeted as the woman's new partner and "helper." Jumpei resists and even makes a futile attempt at escape, to which the woman says, "I'm really sorry. But honestly there hasn't been a single person to get out yet."
Inevitably, Jumpei and the woman engage in a series of sexual encounters that have more to do with an affirmation of life than with physical or emotional attraction. This book is many things, but a love story is definitely not one of them.
When the woman (who remains nameless) suffers an ectopic pregnancy, Jumpei suddenly finds himself alone in the pit and free to go, yet enigmatically (or so it may seem), he refuses to do so.Read more ›
To think that, according to Abe, sand -- only 1/8 mm in diameter -- can so oppress us... Maybe, he is saying, life is sometimes beyond our control.
The themes of living amidst even the worst circumstances are quite apparent, I think, and the sand pit being representative of the mind-numbing simplicity of every day life is a nice pessimistic vision for us all. This book is the story of a man who wants to escape from this mundane existence which he is forced into against his own will, like we all have no choice but, whether we earn an education or not, to work, every day, with little consolation or reward. This is a story of a man who lives out a pure human existence, though in captivity. He works, he eats, he sleeps.
Abe's point must be that there is no more to life than this. We should never expect too much from our lives. Like Jumpei does in this novel, we simply have to come to terms with our existence and find something worth devoting our time to -- like his little discovery in the end, which spurs him on in his work.
A note: in this translation, we are lead to believe that Niki Jumpei is single and living with a woman. This isn't true. In the Japanese version, Jumpei is married to Niki Shino. The author uses a Japanese pronoun to mean "woman" which is most commonly used by married Japanese men to refer to their wife.Read more ›
Some of the images, especially the strange village and the sand formations, are difficult to envision, but Abe rises to the challenge with beautiful, vivid descriptions. Similarly, Niki's daring schemes to outwit the implacable villagers who grimly supervise the work are written with the skill of an author who understands and masters the delicate balance between thought and action.
The novel is not merely a retelling of the myth of Sisyphus because Niki and the woman's task has a practical, if unrealistic, purpose. Rather, I see it as an allegory of man's complacency with his existence in the world.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Eerie. Surreal. Claustrophobic. The heat and the feeling of being trapped, the toil of endless labor, and the sand will all get into your mind. Especially the sand. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Ernest A. Mizell
When this book was foisted on me the person doing the foisting made it sound like an allegory for the virtues of doing household chores. Actually it's far more ambiguous. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Richard Alured
This is a translation from Abe's Japanese text so its not relevant to comment on his writing. Hope, despair, and acceptance are explored through the etymologist trapped in the... Read morePublished 4 months ago by J. Kersh
Imagine a world enveloped in endless waves of sand. You find yourself, somehow, held hostage in an eerie village pocked with cavernous sand pits, tasked day in and day out with... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Elise Hadden