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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1/8 millimeter
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...
Published on 21 April 1999

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14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, philosophical and extremely tedious.
There's no doubt that Kobo Abe's Woman of the Dunes is a superb work of symbolism and philosophy. Every page is filled with metaphor and thoughts about life and futility but none of this makes it an enjoyable book to read. In fact reading the book is rather like watching sand trickle through an hour glass - some people may find meaning and meditation in such a pointless...
Published on 14 Dec. 2000


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 1/8 millimeter, 21 April 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (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. This novel is written in a very traditional Japanese manner, believe it or not, so the translator had to take a few liberties, I would assume. Since the story is told in third person, the use of this particular pronoun would confuse any transltor, really. Also, in the "missing person notice" at the end, the claimant is Jumpei's WIFE, not his mother. That final passage is translated word-for-word -- except for some reason the translator felt the need to put the word "mother" in parentheses as an attempt to clarify Niki's family life.
I think this might help the reader, because reading the Japanese version, one gets the impression early on that Jumpei left on his little trip partly as a result of a marital conflict.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creeps in to your daily thoughts, 13 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
Among the most memorable pieces of literature I have read to date. I read this book during a particularly dreary Seattle winter and found I had to put it down sometimes lest the walls begin to close in and the roof appear lower and lower. Abe's beautifully written tale of futility and humanity really sneaks up on you, building to a crescendo that you never thought would come. Detail abounds and the perfect translation of human interaction alternately soothes and hurts the reader. By the story's dramatic apex, I felt like I was furiously digging too. I find myself pondering this book and bringing it up in conversation quite often and pulling more out of it each time. A worthwhile investment of time, emotions and thought.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking attention to detail and human existence, 8 April 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
I bought this book on a whim, with no knowledge of Abe or even of Japanese writing. It was a pleasant surprise to read such a consuming book. Like the sand that tumbles into his home each night, I was drawn into the story. The book can be confusing at first, because what he describes is a different reality than any of us have experienced. The situations and questions that surface in this book are challenging. I found myself struggling along with Nicki and wondering how I would react in his position. It's no fluff piece of literature and it demands a lot of you, but it was well worth it. I have read Abe's "Secret Rendezvous" which also is about an outsider that has an insurmountable situation to deal with, but it is no comparison to "Woman in the Dunes" which is definitely Abe's masterpiece.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Abe, 30 July 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
This is a masterpiece of existentialist literature. Abe Kobo draws on his most consistent theme : that of a wall, restricting and oppressing the individual consciousness from the infinite realm of alternate possibilities. Although this piece loses a lot of the irony and insight into the anti-hero's feelings in the translation (as any Japanese work must), it still succedes in portraying the difficulties that the modern Japanese, and indeed, the modern man has in coming to terms with his place in the scheme of things. It is an intellectual work, dealing with the transformation of a man's psyche, in Kafkaesque fashion, but it is also a hugely entertaining one, about `an ordinary teacher' forced to come to terms with a reality he would never have chosen for himself. Abe Kobo is one of the best post-war novelists in Japan, with over 100 pieces published and it is a tragedy that more of his works aren't translated into English.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let Abe tell you about sand!, 10 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
I wasn't sure what to expect of this little book - I'd heard vague rumours about the film being 'cult' and controversial - but knew nothing of the book which inspired it. Having read the novel, this is likely one of my most recommended offerings when friends ask for reading suggestions, and I am keen to track down the film version.
It's the tale of a lost insect collector, of a lost village and of a maladaptive way of life. The woman of the title is opaque to us ... viewed as seductive, powerful, weak and aggressive by turns. The narrator changes and evolves through the story, learning from his experience and reflecting on the lessons. I found the whole process very satisfying ... despite the odd premise of the story I had very few moments of wanting to shout at the narrator "why don't you do this!" Usually, the author beat me to them.
[Note: the sand will seep into your mind at odd moments of the day after reading this book, and you may also have a strange compulsion to reread Herbert's Dune. Or maybe that's just me!]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary quicksand, 21 Mar. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
Near the ocean, somewhere southwest of northeast, a small, sleepy village is waiting. Like certain desert insects, cloaking their frightening reality with the shifty innocence of sand, the village seems totally harmless. And yet--there is something uncanny about it. A salty breeze blows by, a cool mist is in the air. A seagull cackles, harshly....

Abe's visceral journey into the (literal) depths of existentialism is so vivid you can feel the grains of sand in your throat, rubbing you raw. He plunges you into this world of sand and sun, a circle of hell just below your feet. You want to come up for air but he holds you down masterfully, until your only option is to continue turning pages with your trembling hands. Don't dare to hope, for hope is a trap even the crows ignore. And as you drown without a drop of water in sight, the shell of your past life scoured away by the sand the sand the everpresent sand, you may at last recall that even Sisyphus, or so it goes, was happy after all....
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a mundane existence, 29 Aug. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
The author tells the story of a man who is forced out of his mundane existence into a new mundane existence. I found the story to be more symbolic and open to interpretation and discussions than it is enjoyable to read. Having said that, I'm glad that I've read this book; It's a book one appreciates more after reading it than while reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely satisfying to the psyche, 17 April 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) (Paperback)
When I saw the movie based on this book in 1984, I felt it was the most beautiful movie I'd ever seen. Now, some fifteen years later, I get to read this book and it has become my favorite novel. The characters and their crude reality, treated with such tender detachment, so effectively draws out our affirming empathy. I've not read other Abe's works but this must be his highest masterpiece. (My version of the novel is translated by E. Dale Saunders).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Grains of sand as a metaphor for life, 29 Sept. 2013
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Sam Simmonds (Hornsby, NSW, AU) - See all my reviews
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A disturbing allegory by a highly talented author. The text reads like a nightmare but the plot is skilfully arranged to keep the reader riveted to the plight of the protagonist. The constant - and ultimately futile - effort needed to clear the perpetually encroaching sand from the central character's environment is convincingly portrayed as a lifelong struggle against the inevitable. Not an easy read, but one very well worthwhile.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Comparables, 28 Sept. 2013
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I can't get enough of Kobo Abe, following reading the boxman I decided to give this a go. Coincidentaly I watched 'The Cloud Atlas', recently which has many similarities, although this is a much starker version. A book that questions why we do what we do in a kafkaesque manner, 'The Castle', with beautiful similies along the lines of Omar Khayyam.
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Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International)
Woman in the Dunes (Vintage International) by K. Abe (Paperback - 1 April 1991)
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