July 26th, 2012


Book Review: The Woman in the Dunes, by Kobo Abe

Oppressive existentialism full of symbolic imagery, and sand.

The Woman in the Dunes

Alfred E. Knopf (in English), 1963, 241 pages

One of the premier Japanese novels of the twentieth century, The Women in the Dunes combines the essence of myth, suspense, and the existential novel. In a remote seaside village, Niki Jumpei, a teacher and amateur entomologist, is held captive with a young woman at the bottom of a vast sand pit where, Sisyphus-like, they are pressed into shoveling off the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten the village.

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Verdict: This is a thoughtful book and one to take your time with, even though it's pretty short. If you don't care to think about the symbolism and all the metaphors that the sand is representing, and what Kobo Abe is saying about his characters, and society, between the lines, then this might be one of those books that those not fond of literary fiction will dismiss as boring and kind of pointless. Which would be a shame, because The Woman in the Dunes is quite a gem, if definitely something you have to be in the right mood for.

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