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The Woman in the Dunes Paperback – April 16, 1991

4.3 out of 5 stars 109 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Review

“Devious, addictive. . . . Never less than compulsive. . . . Abe is an accomplished stylist.”
—David Mitchell
 
“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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 16, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679733787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679733782
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Kobo Abe's Woman in the Dunes in both an existential allegory as well as a masterpiece of sensual terror.
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.
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By A Customer on April 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
This had to be one of the most bizarre pieces of literature I have ever read -- but that's a good thing, really. It's a very claustrophobic work -- the setting is ultimately very very small and limited. I think this was a really cool effect -- it made us feel more "at home" with where the characters were.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Kobo Abe's excellent novel "The Woman in the Dunes" examines the nature of how man relates his responsibilities to his sense of freedom. The protagonist is a schoolteacher named Niki Jumpei who collects insects as a hobby and, on a holiday, goes to a sandy seashore in search of rare specimens. Near the shore he finds a most curiously constructed village -- the houses are sunk into individual sand pits. When he misses the last bus back to civilization, the villagers assign him to spend the night in a house at the bottom of one of the pits. Dwelling in the house is a nameless woman who must shovel sand out of the pit constantly to keep the entire village from being buried in the encroaching sand dunes. Soon Niki learns that the villagers have no intention of letting him out of the pit and that he must help the woman with shoveling. Faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life imprisoned and forced to labor in the sand pit, he must accustom himself to his new environment and become the woman's sexual mate.
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.
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