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The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 28 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Edition edition (28 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188522
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 107,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Abe follows with meticulous precision his hero's constantly shifting physical, emotional and psychological states. He also presents...everyday existence in a sand pit with such compelling realism that these passages serve both to heighten the credibility of the bizarre plot and subtly increase the interior tensions of the novel." -- The New York Times Book Review "Some of Kobo Abe's readers will recall Kafka's manipulation of a nightmarish tyranny of the unknown, others Beckett's selection of sites like the sand pit...as a symbol of the undignified human predicament." -- Saturday Review

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.

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One day in August a man disappeared. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John Self on 30 Jan. 2007
Format: Paperback
In this slippery and elliptical allegory, the woman in the dunes is in fact a secondary character, though her featuring in the title should alert to us to her true importance. Our protagonist instead is a man, a insect collector called Niki Jumpei. One day, so far as the rest of the world can see, he disappears. While strolling along a beach he has discovered a village, where sand dunes build up higher around each successive house, until eventually he finds that he is walking along the elevated dunes and looking down at the houses which are sunken into holes in the sandscape. If I go on, I'm telling no more than the back cover blurb does, which is that the man stays overnight in one of the houses, lowered down to the house from the sixty-foot dunes by rope ladder, and when he wakes up the next morning the ladder is gone.

And so we find ourselves in a bizarre fairytale-like world, where sand is everything and everything is sand. It permeates, literally, everything Niki thinks about, until he can think of little more than the properties, qualities, types and uses of sand. The book does for silica crystals what Moby Dick did for whales: that is, approach it from all sides and finish it off by writing more about it than we could ever wish to know. In the clichéd language of reviewers everywhere, the sand seems to become a character itself. But unlike Moby Dick, The Woman in the Dunes never loses sight of the story, and it becomes positively page-turning. It also evokes the borderline-otherworldliness J.G. Ballard - and in particular his novel Concrete Island, where a man becomes trapped in a sunken motorway island - and the sort of thing that I always thought Kafka wrote but actually didn't (ie paranoid allegories of existence which actually make linear sense).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Minkle MacTinkle on 3 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
I have always been interested in all things Japanese but this was my first exposure to more serious literature. I initially thought it would be way over my head, pretentious and hollow. Luckily I was was wrong on all three counts.
The prose moves in a slow and menacing way like the dunes of the title, I also felt a constant undertone of threatening excitement which kept me hooked into the plot. The real enjoyment of the book comes from the author's ability to describe sensations and emotions relating to the protagonist who finds himself in a Kafka type scenario. He takes you so far into the dunes that you feel like washing sand from yourself after reading it. I was plagued by constant introspection and reflection during and after reading this book, especially because it becomes so ambiguous towards the end.
I would recommend this book to anybody looking for something slightly different or anybody who likes to think about things on a deeper level. After reading it you may think about your current path in life and you may never want to go near sand again.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John on 4 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
The Kobo Abe novel "Woman in the Dunes is a Japanese novel written in the 1960s and made in the same person. It traces, in a small book of less then 300 pages, the implications of being alienated and the contradictions of conformity freedom if that conformity has a purpose.
Niki Junpei a teacher trapped in a empty teaching job, a failed relationship and a life mapped up to retirement and death goes a secret 3 day trip- done to wind up his work colleagues. He is an amateur entomologist (bug collector!) which in Japan of the period is an equally conforming hobby. (The imagery of trapping, collecting, recording and pinning is an important an important motif.

Junpei is interested in sand bugs so goes to area of sand dunes. When he misses the last bus back, a group of locals suggest he stays the night in their village. They send him down a rope-ladder to a house at the bottom of a sandpit, where a young widow lives alone. She has been tasked along with a handful of other households by the village with preventing the sands from destroying the house (if their houses succumbs to the dunes then the other houses in the village will be threatened).

When Junpei tries to leave the next morning he finds the ladder removed. The villagers inform him that he must help the widow in her endless task of digging sand. Junpei initially tries to escape, upon failing he takes the widow captive, but is forced to release her when the house almost collapses after several days of sand build up outside. At one point he does escape only to be captured and gradually Junpei eventually becomes the widow's lover but still continues to plot his escape. Through his persistent effort on trapping a crow for messenger, he discovers a way to draw water from the damp sand at night.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on 10 May 2010
Format: Paperback
Novels in translation always present at least twice their share of pitfalls for the reviewer, or even the reader. A translated novel has to be approached as a package, experienced as such and reviewed in kind. After reading The Woman In The Dunes by Kobo Abe I am presented with a wholly new dilemma, however.

An entomologist disappears while out bug hunting. He finds himself a virtual prisoner in a sand pit, a pit inhabited by a woman with whom he soon finds a predictable solace. He tries to escape, and does not. He dreams of escape, and does not achieve his goal. The characteristics of his new environment seem to contradict all of his assumptions. Nothing helps.

The Woman In The Dunes might be described as absurd. Equally, the term nihilistic might be appropriate. It might even be deliberately trivial. As such it presents an intellectual challenge to the reader who, of necessity, must constantly interpolate the banality of the book's inaction into a sub-text of potentially enormous significance. I say "potentially" enormous significance because I remain unsure, having finished the book, whether any significance at all might apply. But then again, perhaps that's the point.

The Woman In The Dunes has been likened to Kafka's Trial or the absurdity of Samuel Beckett's plays. As an experience, however, none of the suspense of the former nor the bald linguistic power of the latter. Perhaps the novel's rather one-paced prose was a true reflection of the original. If so, then I might suggest that the writer rather over-stated his point.
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