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The Face of Another [Paperback]

Kobo Abe
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb 2003
Like an elegantly chilling postscript to The Metamorphosis, this classic of postwar Japanese literature describes a bizarre physical transformation that exposes the duplicities of an entire world. The narrator is a scientist hideously deformed in a laboratory accident–a man who has lost his face and, with it, his connection to other people. Even his wife is now repulsed by him.

His only entry back into the world is to create a mask so perfect as to be undetectable. But soon he finds that such a mask is more than a disguise: it is an alternate self–a self that is capable of anything. A remorseless meditation on nature, identity and the social contract, The Face of Another is an intellectual horror story of the highest order.

Product details

  • Paperback: 237 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (Feb 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726538
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.3 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,261,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A fascinating book.... The world of Kobo Abe is one in which intellectual concepts have the emotional impact and motivating power of psychotic compulsions."-"Newsweek" "A major novel... Since The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe's stock as a novelist has been very high. The Face of Another raises it still more."-"The Christian Science Monitor ""Probes the edges of a waking nightmare....The central, shaping metaphor of face and facelessness is brilliant, and Abe's relentless pursuit of its every implication is powerful."-"The Saturday Review" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Kobo Abe was born in Tokyo in 1924, grew up in Manchuria, and returned to Japan in his early twenties. Before his death in 1993, Abe was considered his country's foremost living novelist. His novels have earned many literary awards and prizes, and have all been bestsellers in Japan. They include THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES, THE ARK SAKURA, THE FACE OF ANOTHER, THE BOX MAN, and THE RUINED MAP.

Kaori Nagai graduated from the University of Tokyo and obtained a doctorate in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, UK, where she currently teaches. She is the author of Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland (forthcoming: Cork University Press).

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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At last you have come, threading your way through the endless passages of the maze. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Persona/mask 15 July 2012
A "persona" in the standard vernacular, refers to a social role or character performed by an actor. The word is thought to have derived from Latin, where it's original meaning referred to a theatrical mask. The Latin word probably has it's roots in the Etruscan word "Phersu" which had the same meaning*. In the study of communication, persona is a term used to describe the versions of self that all individuals possess, with behaviours selected like masks according to the impression an individual wishes to project when interacting with others. Therefore, "personas" presented to other people will vary according to the social environment a person is engaged in and the persona presented before others will differ from the one an individual will display when they happen to be alone. According to Carl Jung whilst a child is growing, the development of a viable social persona is a vital part of adapting to and in preparation for adult life in the external social world - 'A strong ego relates to the outside world through a flexible persona; identification with a specific persona (doctor, scholar, artist, etc.) inhibits psychological development'. For Jung the danger was that people become identical with their personas (the doctor with his stethoscope, the conductor with her baton ) resulting in what could be a shallow, brittle, conformist kind of personality which is "all mask".

The Face of Another (1964) was Kobe Abe's first major novel after the success of The Women in the Dunes (1962) and like that book follows the theme of the modern individuals alienation with the society they live in.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the effort required 10 July 2010
I read this book having read one other Abe book (The Ark Sakura) and having seen the movie Face of Another by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Perhaps this helped me persevere with the effort that is admittedly required in getting through some of the more obscure philosophical passages in this book. The longwindedness of these musings seems to serve more than the immediate purpose of philosophy; it also portrays the mental torture that the protaganist inflicts upon himself through his over-analysis of his condition.

Abe was surely a genius and I have rarely read a book so provocative regarding personality. In that sense it seems to have something in common to, say, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I would not claim to fully understand the book of course but I do think that it is much more about personality than being some sort of allegory about post-war Japan as has been suggested.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow-going at first but well worth it! 8 July 1999
By A Customer
I initially found this novel hard to respect since the central theme of a man and his mask seemed trite and a cliche. However this setup does allow the novel's main character to seduce his wife, posing as a stranger; a strange social situation which was described with much empathy and insight by Abe.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much philosophising 12 Nov 2007
By Greshon
After reading the superb Woman in the Dunes, I wanted to read more Abe Kobo, but so far this has led to disappointment. This is better than Inter-Ice Age 4 but it spends far too much time philosophising and far too little time on the action.

The best bit by far comes at the end of the novel, in which something from earlier on, initially presented as incidental, is revealed. The meaning of the novel is expanded, and the narrator's scarred face becomes a metaphor for a Japan ravaged by WW2.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A face to meet the faces that we meet... 16 May 2007
By Mark Nadja - Published on Amazon.com
Everyone knows that in Japanese society there's hardly anything worse than losing face. Kobo Abe starts with this cultural taboo and amplifies it to its logically nightmarish extreme as he explores the existential horror experienced by a scientist who literally loses his face in a laboratory accident. Hideously disfigured and shunned even by his former friends and colleagues, the narrator of *The Face of Another* describes in harrowing detail the totality of his isolation from human contact--especially from his conventional, well-meaning wife--and his desperate plan to create for himself a life-like mask that will reopen the `doorway' between him and the community of others.

The novel itself is written as an extended address to the aforementioned wife and meant to be read after he carries out his intention of seducing her as the `stranger' the mask allows him to become. Between the elaborate preparation of the mask and the ill-fated seduction, Abe's narrator travels a zig-zag path between cynicism and self-loathing, psychological breakdown and philosophical speculation as he confronts the elusive nature of human relations and personal identity. His mask gives him a passport to cross the border forbidden the faceless and to re-enter society. Even more, it grants him the radical freedom to be someone else, to be anyone else...to be everyone else. But at what price? If he must wear a mask has he really accomplished anything? Is he really being seen by others or is his `true' self as invisible as before--and just who is he, anyway? How does he choose his mask? Does a mask ultimately reveal or conceal? Which mask will his estranged wife be seduced by? And if she is seduced, has she been unfaithful? Has she betrayed him with himself? As he contemplates these labyrinthine questions, Abe's narrator comes to understand how even people with undamaged faces are also wearing a mask when they're with others. Is the face itself nothing but a mask made of flesh?

This eerie, thought-provoking novel operates on several different levels. But what makes it more than just another Jeckyll & Hyde tale of evil doubles, shadow-selves, and dual identities is the profound philosophical dialectic that Abe engages in throughout. A mystery, thriller, horror novel all in one, *The Face of Another* is a sophisticated meditation on that most enigmatic question of all: who exactly are we?

At times Abe's story drags, at other times his musings are difficult to follow, almost as if some vital connection between his observations had been lost in translation, and, therefore minus one-star, but, the last fifty pages or so are as powerful as anything you're likely to read. For the most part, *The Face of Another* is a riveting and disturbing work that, like Abe's classic *The Woman in the Dunes,* I won't soon--if ever--forget. You probably won't either.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow-going at first but well worth it! 8 July 1999
By Jim Conant - Published on Amazon.com
I initially found this novel hard to respect since the central theme of a man and his mask seemed trite and a cliche. However this setup does allow the novel's main character to seduce his wife, posing as a stranger; a strange social situation which was described with much empathy and insight by Abe.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The absurdity is almost a character. 3 April 2007
By Michael Tillman - Published on Amazon.com
This book begins odd and gets creepy and ends, I believe, scary. At the outset you have a feeling of sympathy for the character, which grows into 1 of 2 things as the book progresses - detached fascination with Abe's character study, or revulsion. Possibly both.

The philosophical musings are there, but what hasn't been mentioned here is the flawed narrator. The musings themselves may be bs, but because our sympathy hasn't been completely destroyed when they begin, we give them the benefit of the doubt. That they become more and more absurd is to give an idea of the heightened sense of fear in the narrator about the impending action. At first we disagree with what he says (early on) but at the same time, due to our involvement, ask 'to what extent could that be true, or to what extent is it in fact true, if we look at it in a slightly different light?'

I personally prefer this to Kangaroo Notebook, which, while outrageous and a fun read, is effective not for its realism, but for its fantasy. This book, on the other hand, produces its effects more believably, because there's really nothing to prevent this exact person from existing.

I feel it is an interesting predecessor to Vanilla Sky based of course on the mask and also on the theme of isolation. It also reminds me of Palahniuk's 'Survivor' through the looking glass - a very opposite character, introverted, but also because of the ending - a very similar truncation that implies...

Engrossing read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Suspenseful with a mind boggling affect! 26 Oct 2004
By Emerson - Published on Amazon.com
I loved this book and will be giving it for holiday gifts this year. The philosophical musings are incredibly powerful and thought provoking, while the prose is intense and suspenseful. After page 83, I found myself yelling outloud to the narrator whose journal we read as he attempts to deal with the aftermath of an accident that has stolen his face. I dare you to read this book and look at your self and others the same way you did before.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Achievement 2 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Not one of the truly great novels, no doubt (and there are so few), but outstanding and amazing, nonetheless. Recommended, despite philosophical musings of a gratuitous density and complexity -- at times, quite beyond full comprehension.
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