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The Woman in the Dunes (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Kobo Abe , David Mitchell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Sep 2006 Penguin Classics

Dazzlingly original, Kobo Abe's The Woman in the Dunes is one of the premier Japanese novels in the twentieth century, and this Penguin Classics edition contains a new introduction by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas.

Niki Jumpei, an amateur entomologist, searches the scorching desert for beetles. As night falls he is forced to seek shelter in an eerie village, half-buried by huge sand dunes. He awakes to the terrifying realisation that the villagers have imprisoned him with a young woman at the bottom of a vast sand pit. Tricked into slavery and threatened with starvation if he does not work, Jumpei's only chance is to shovel the ever-encroaching sand - or face an agonising death. Among the greatest Japanese novels of the twentieth century, The Woman in the Dunes combines the essence of myth, suspense, and the existential novel.

Kobo Abe (1924-93) was born in Tokyo, grew up in Manchuria, and returned to Japan in his early twenties. During his life 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.

If you liked The Woman in the Dunes, you might enjoy Albert Camus' The Plague, also available in Penguin Classics.

'A haunting Kafkaesque nightmare'


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Edition edition (28 Sep 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188529
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188522
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 13.1 x 19.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,760 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

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Claustrophobic sandland 3 Mar 2008
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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By sally tarbox TOP 500 REVIEWER
A totally gripping read: a Japanese insect-collector goes off to spend his holiday in the sand-dunes, hoping to find some new species which will bear his name:'his efforts are crowned with success if his name is perpetuated in the memory of his fellow men by being associated with an insect'.
When night falls, he is forced to seek shelter, and is offered a room in a rickety house with a young widow, down a dune, accessible only by rope ladder. When day dawns, he finds the ladder has been removed, and he is expected to spend his nights assisting the woman in loading buckets with sand, otherwise her house (and the village) will be overwhelmed with sand.
I was dubious about the cover's calling it 'Kafkaesque' and 'existential'. would it be too deep for this reader to get the meaning? The answer is no, it's very accessible. As our insect-collector gets used to the awful surroundings, he begins to comprehend how the villagers stay in this god-forsaken spot:
'He could easily understand how it was possible to live such a life. There were kitchens...blaring radios and broken radios...and in the midst of them all were scattered hundred-yen pieces, domestic animals, children, sex, promissory notes, adultery, incense burners, souvenir photos, and...It goes on, terrifyingly repetitive. One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.'
Caught up in the minutiae of life: whether it's work, like a hamster on a wheel; sensual enjoyments; materialistic ambition (the woman aspires to buy a radio); or engrossing if ultimately futile pastimes (the man finds new insects in his dune); humans find meaning in lives which when considered dispassionately are pretty pointless.
Exciting and thought-provoking, this was a great read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading! 13 July 2012
This is an original story about the insect collector, Jumpei, who gets caught in a hole in the sand without being able to escape. He meets a widow there who spends her days shoveling sand away from her home in the dunes. Both engage in a series of erotic interactions and live out an interesting relation in spite of their captivity.
The events and scenery are ideal for a surreal, existential and fascinating reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Through the hourglass 8 Feb 2012
By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Though Kobo Abe first published as a poet in 1947, he only rose to acclaim with The Woman in the Dunes in 1962. And though Abe has published a dozen or so works of fiction, this remains his best-known.

The Woman in the Dunes is told in almost abstract, allegorical terms. The reader only learns the protagonist's name on the last page, otherwise known as the man to the other main character, the woman. The story begins as an entomologist gets caught by the dark in the dunes by a seaside village. He thinks he is offered accommodation, but the house into which he is lowered, at the bottom of a deep sandpit, makes a prisoner of him, condemned forever to shovel the encroaching sand. From the outset, the plot and setting are endowed with an unreal, rhetorical quality. As the man struggles to escape, the focus changes to the repetitiveness of daily life, the futility of society with its news and entertainment, which the man soon discards. His relationship with the woman is thrown a stark, ambiguous but mostly adversarial light. And the novel emerges as metaphor for the pointlessness of human life; any life:, not just life at the bottom of a sandpit.

Abe had been compared with Kafka, and they share a dry, allegorical style as well as bitter, sarcastic humour and the occasional expository interruption in a third voice. Some sex scenes in this novel are quite crude, as they are in The Castle. But The Woman in the Dunes differs from Kafka in key respects. First, Abe enjoys providing forensic detail, engaging in what is nowadays fashionably called research. Thus he muses about insect species, about sand itself, about the niceties of police reports. This makes the story more real. Second, the novel is not entirely bleak, allowing for some positive ambivalence as one approaches the end. This is an extremely intriguing and engaging novel, idiosyncratic and probably unrepresentative of modern Japanese fiction such as one finds in the better-know Mishima.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Suffocation and delight 16 Nov 2010
I have found a new writer of which I wish to grab all of the work of and see if it is as good or dare I say, improves even...

In three words, I would sum up this novel as succinct, creative and suffocating. Hmm, I know what you're thinking, 'suffocating' is not a particularly positive word. But I mean it in that you can't stop reading because as you do, the description keeps hitting you over and over, hardly giving you time to breathe. And equally the presence of sand in the novel, all around the characters, in their food and drink, on their bodies, creates a sense of suffocation at all points.

Yet, although the premise of an insect collector being imprisoned in a sand pit, seems in some senses depressing and perhaps boring, Abe really makes sure that it is neither.

So to the beginning but without ruining too much of the novel: we meet Niki Jumpei, an insect collector who has impulsively decided to visit some sand dunes somewhere in Japan to find insects, specifically sand beetles. By nightfall, desperately needing a place to stay, he ends up deep in a sand pit, seemingly offered hospitality by a woman who lives in a deteriorating house at the bottom. By morning, the ladder to freedom has been taken away and so begins Niki's fascination and hate for his imprisonment.

What was interesting was that the protagonist, Niki, came to the dunes because he had a fascination with sand initially. He talks about how it 'flows' around the world and it's 1/8 of a millimeter size. And in the novel, the sand does flow through it and it does seem to get into the smallest places. As you read, you can almost feel the sand on your skin, grating at you as it does Niki.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars unexpectedly fast
I bought this book as a result of my recent discovery of the pleasures of existentialist literature. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mr. R. J. Murton
4.0 out of 5 stars Sand, sand, everywhere
It's decades since I read any Kafka, but I didn't need the comment on the cover to immediately draw the comparison. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Steve Keen
4.0 out of 5 stars A fable of entrapment
The plot is simple: a man visits a coastal region, where the inhabitants are forced to work tirelessly to clear their homes of sand. Read more
Published on 11 Aug 2011 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Sand and life and love
This book is a tale located in the sand dunes of a remote coastal village in early 1960's Japan. There are basically two characters the school master Niki, who's an intellectual... Read more
Published on 18 Jun 2011 by H. Tee
3.0 out of 5 stars What's in it for me? Sand.
Novels in translation always present at least twice their share of pitfalls for the reviewer, or even the reader. Read more
Published on 10 May 2010 by Philip Spires
5.0 out of 5 stars Classical cult novel that haunts your imagination
The Kobo Abe novel "Woman in the Dunes is a Japanese novel written in the 1960s and made in the same person. Read more
Published on 4 Jan 2008 by John
4.0 out of 5 stars A Perverse Sandscape
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. Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2007 by John Self
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