The Woman in the Dunes
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The Woman in the Dunes

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  8,167 ratings  ·  581 reviews
The Woman in the Dunes, by celebrated writer and thinker Kobo Abe, combines the essence of myth, suspense and the existential novel.

After missing the last bus home following a day trip to the seashore, an amateur entomologist is offered lodging for the night at the bottom of a vast sand pit. But when he attempts to leave the next morning, he quickly discovers that the lo...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 16th 1991 by Vintage (first published 1962)
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13th out of 390 books — 1,772 voters
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This book is horrifically claustrophobic and eerie.

How much of our lives consist of frantically trying to stay afloat? Life can be as fruitless as a man trapped under sand dunes digging to live...or living to dig. Do we work to live or live to work? If you think being held hostage in sand is fantastical, what do you think your life is, anyway?

This book wears you down. It gets into your skin, your hair, under your fingernails. The sand is everywhere. The wind, the salt air, their eyes always wat...more

When we mix surrealistic Kafkaesque climate with existential questions about sense of human being then we get something like The woman in the dunes .

Tale about a man obsessed or maybe possessed with sand who during the trip to the sea is trapped in the dunes in a cave inhabited by a lonely woman. Initially desperately tries to escape , but the magnetic strength of the woman , her desperate fight with sand makes that what previously seemed to be a trap , now becomes a sense of his life.

The firs...more
“While he mused on the effect of the flowing sands, he was seized from time to time by hallucinations in which he himself began to move with the flow.”

This book is about a man who tricked and has to live in a house at the bottom of a sand pit with a woman. They can't escape the sand which settles on them even as they sleep. As much as they shovel it away, they can't get rid of it.

This is definitely a unique story. I now know more about sand than I probably need to. I never really thought much a...more
Jul 15, 2010 Praj rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: j-lit
While reading this book my thoughts were constantly racing towards Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus” "From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all."

Premises of hope, alienation and irrationality reeking from every printed word induced me into inferring Kobo Abe being the Japanese Camus. The protagonist Junpei Niki illustrates traits of Sisyphean persona; pursuing meaningless task of digging buckets of sand from the pit only to see it fill up again.

Jun 21, 2014 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sand women, entomologists
Since I started reading both more avidly and more widely several years ago, I've spent more time analyzing different genres, different kinds of authors, and different kinds of literature. In Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, she makes a number of observations about how classic French novels differ from classic British novels, and how American novelists differ from either. I'm not well read enough in French and British literature to judge the validity of her points, other than to not...more
Jan 09, 2008 Dustin added it
Recommends it for: good friends that you kind of hate a little
Shelves: crappy-books
My first year at SFSU, me and my roommate decided to recommend books to each other, books we loved, in order to get to know each other better. It was the kind of quasi-homoerotic, pseudo-intellectual buddy activity which has since become the staple of our relationship.

The first book he recommended was "Woman in the Dunes". I struggled with it and felt intellectually inferior. He was my friend and I wanted to like it. I tried really hard. I fell asleep reading it at least three times. I remember...more
A novel of erosion - erosion of resolve, erosion of morality, erosion of sanity. Delightfully surreal.
Nate D
Read within a week of seeing the film, I'm surprised by how closely they parallel eachother. Somehow, the entire novel's storyline fits unhurriedly into the film's two hours, with the only omissions being the protagonist's introspections into the natures of sand and sex. Some of which here are actually amazing -- the metaphysics of sand moreso then the rather garbled sexual politics sequence, which I read over twice but am still confused by, for reasons that might actually have to do with some o...more
And so it came to be, as we had long suspected, that hope and hopelessness are inextricably tied together at the bottom of some sand cavity scooped out by incessant wind. As with most allegories, do not read this as an allegory. It is merely the human mind with its thirst for images that always yearns to couple image with image, thing with its significant other, notably signifying nothing. Instead, read this as a choose-your-own-adventure story:

You are surrounded by steep sand in all direction...more
Marat M. Yavrumyan
Տարօրինակ էր, ինչպես և ճապոնացի մյուս բոլոր հեղինակներից կարդացած գրքերը։ Ժամանակն արժեր, իրոք։ Ի՞նչ տվեց գիրքը, Աստված գիտի։ Ամեն դեպքում, ամենից շատ հավանածս հատվածը՝

— Լավ, մի մխիթարիր... Կյանքը այնպիսի բան չէ, որ միայն մխիթարվելով ապրեն... Այնտեղ ուրիշ կյանք է, այստեղ ուրիշ... Եվ միշտ թվում է, թե ուրիշ կյանքն ավելի քաղցր է... Ամենից գարշելին մտածելն է, թե ի՞նչ կլինի, եթե կյանքը հենց այսպես էլ անցնելու է գնա... Մի՞թե սա է կյանքը... Այդ բանը ոչ ոք չգիտե... Էհ, ավելի լավ է մինչև կոկորդ խրված լի...more
I don’t remember how I first came to read this book a few years ago, since I’m neither into Japanese authors nor into Existentialism. Anyway, being an e-book, I dropped it almost immediately, but (again, I don’t remember how) I ended up watching the film, about 3 years ago. And boy was it rewarding! The plot, the cinematography, the music, the resemblance to Fowles’ "The Collector", everything seemed to be perfectly bonded and hallucinating, I dare recommend it. But because I sort of hate leavin...more
I began this book with such hope. How had I not read this before? Abe is amazing, he's a master, he's the inspiration for Haruki Murakami certainly, he's the original Japanese Kafka. Ah, what promise it held. And then the book continued . . .

"There was a woman . . . there was sand . . . there was an empty water jar . . . there was a drooling wolf . . . there was a sun" (p. 125). Don't ask about the drooling wolf. He lost me there.

I should note that I've never cared for sand or for beaches, so t...more
This is the third time I am writing this review after having it crash on me like a wall of sand, and now in this seemingly Sisyphean task - like the fate of the novel's narrator, condemned to shovelling sand in a nightmarish, inescapable pit - I feel like Kōbō Abe captured perfectly the sheer mundanity of the struggles we fight against daily when we ask ourselves what does it mean to be living. And how much does it mean to survive? After having written out a full review twice already, I feel dra...more
If Kafka had a fondness for sake and spent more time on the beach pondering the complexities of sand, he might have written this book which reminds me more than a little of The Trial or The Castle.

Coincidentally (if there really is such a thing), the same day I completed this novel I also finished viewing Synecdoche New York, and I can't help but think of the Japanese entomologist trapped in the sand and the miserable Caden Cotard as strangely kindred spirits. Both bug collectors and directors a...more
Richard Vialet
Sand sucks.

The sand in this novel is so oppressive, invasive, and omnipresent, that after finishing the book, I felt like I needed to take a shower. Maybe two.

"His words were absorbed by the sand and blown by the wind, and there was no way of knowing how far they reached."
The book is the basis of one of my favorite Japanese movies, and it's story is so eccentric, I wanted to see how it worked as a novel. It's the tale of a man, who disappeared and was declared dead after he journeyed on his...more
I've watched the movie after reading the novel, and my review below is for both of them.

The story is about Niki Jumpei, a teacher who made a field trip to a desert near the sea. He collects insect specimens. As an amateur entomologist, he is determined to discover an unrecorded beetle that would make his name. Trying to find lodgings for the night, he is helped by men of the village to descend a sand pit leading to a hut using a rope ladder. A woman living below (the "woman in the dunes") will t...more
Oh my goodness, anyone who's ever cursed the way sand gets in everything after a day at the beach will appreciate how grotty you'd feel if made to live amidst sand 24/7, as the protagonist of this novel is forced to do. This book totally got under my skin.

I was keen to read this after finding out its stature as a Japanese classic; it was published in 1962 to critical acclaim. On the face of it, it's a simple plot - a man ('an insect enthusiast')searching the desert for a rare beetle, stumbles up...more
Chilly SavageMelon
An amatuer entomologist goes to a remote seaside village for specimens and finds himself involved in a bizarre nightmare scenario with the people there. I’m not sure how else the title might be translated from the Japanese, and though the “woman” mentioned is very much central to the novel, I think Mindfuck in the Dunes would have also been an apt title. It was so exciting to be pulled into this tale, and while it isn’t entirely about PLOT, I’m not going to say too much more along those lines. W...more
Asma Fedosia
The author's birthday March 7, 1924, is the same as the main character's birthday. And, the year of the novel's publication is the year that the teacher Niki Jumpei is officially declared missing.

In Part One, a thirty-something man takes a three-day holiday without giving anyone info as to his destination. His hobby is entomology, leading him to look for new species of sand insects, such as beetles, with which his name will be given. Instead of the egotistic seeking, he wanders into a remote vi...more
Do we work to live, or live to work? What would happen to our sense of Self & Meaning if we realized that all work is essentially nothing but reorganizing piles of sand? What would happen if we came to that realization, but ultimately choose to accept it and keep working anyway? Is that heroic, or tragic?

Abe draws inspiration from Kafka and Beckett, and grounds his surreal exploration of existentialist themes in agonizing detail. It is a gripping, if at time disorienting, narrative. We feel...more
Marita Mazanishvili
“სიმარტოვე – ეს ოცნების დაუოკებელი წყურვილია” , – წერს კობო აბე.

ფრაზა, რომელიც,ალბათ, ბევრჯერ გაუხაზავთ იაპონურ ლიტერატურაზე შეყვარებულ მკითხველებს ლაიტმოტივად გასდევს რომანს “ქალი ქვიშაში”. მართლაც, ეს უკანასკნელი სავსეა სიმარტოვით, უშედეგო ბრძოლით, სასოწარკვეთილებით, დაცემითა და უძლურებით.

იაპონელ კაფკას, როგორც ხშირად კობო აბეს უწოდებენ გააჩნია განსაკუთრებული უნარი ჩვენს წარმოსახვაში გააღვიძოს სიზიფეს მითი და ახლებურად დაგვანახოს ცხოვრება, რომელიც კაცობრიობისთვის ქვის ზიდვაა, ნიკი ძიუმპეისთვის...more
Apr 25, 2013 Tao rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Kafka, Joy Williams, Lydia Davis
I like this book. It is very calm and detached. The character is in a terrible situation and then accepts the situation and experiences despair but not more despair than he would experience in any other situation, even if it was a situation like having relationship problems, even though his situation would be viewed as very terrible by most people. I like the ending of this book. I felt very calm after reading it.
خطر لوث شدن ( به قول ویکیپیدا :ی )
کتابی که واقعن دوست داشتم - داستان مردی که با یک زن تو یه گودال شن گیر میکنه
از نظر اجزای داستانی فقط 2 تا شخصیت داریم که بهترین نحو ساخته و پرداخته شده‌اند. روند تغییر شخصیت مرد از یه شخصیت فرمانبر به یه شخصیت آشوبگر و باز به شخصیت وفق یافته خیلی جالبه و البته شخصیت پردازی به حدی قویه که به نظر نمیاد یه پروسه ی غیرطبیعی داره اتفاق میفته .
در مورد فضاپردازی ، توصیفات فضا خیلی قویه تا حدی که علل علمی رو هم توضیح میده شاید به نظر خیلیا این نقص باشه و نویسنده خواست...more
Drowning in the sands of time.... Some magnificent writing here -- .

Richie reports a conversation with Abe where the author complained of constantly being compared to Kafka - 'It's Lewis Carroll who was the influence!', Abe said.

But it really does feel more like K.
There are a few points I liked after reading Kobo Abe’s “The Woman in the Dunes” first published in 1962 and translated into twenty languages (p. v); arguably, the book’s plot has exposed the psychologically-tormented man and woman hopelessly entrapped in a lodging under the dunes near the shore somewhere in Japan.

First, the 240-page book was enjoyably readable due to its appropriately large fonts and drawings related to its narrative. Like I commented on some books before, we readers should hav...more
آنچه در این کتاب (به ویژه تا نیمۀ کتاب) خواننده را با مشکل روبرو می‌کند، ساختن یک تصویر ذهنی از این ناکجاآباد شن‌زده است. اما نقطۀ قوت داستان، واقعیت جاری در رفتار مرد است، احساس و تفکر او و سیر تغییراتش تا پایان کاملاً قابل درک است؛ خواننده به راحتی می‌تواند همگام با او، همان سیر احساسی و فکری را تجربه کند. همراه با او می‌ترسیم، نقشه می‌کشیم، مبارزه می‌کنیم و در آن باتلاق شنی، شکست خورده می‌گرییم و برای زنده ماندن از زندانبانانمان کمک می‌خواهیم. هر چند شاید در پایان داستان چندان با او هم آوا نب...more
Next up in my run through of the great Post-War Japanese literary giants, is Kōbō Abe. (You can check out my review of Shusaku Endo’s Silence here).

I actually discovered Abe not through his books, but through the films of Hiroshi Teshigahara. The Face of Another, which was adapted by the director from Abe’s novel, is an eerie film, with Tatsuya Nakadai doing a stellar job as the businessman who loses his identity (and his moral self in the process). I then moved on to The Woman in the Dunes, bu...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Look, I know it's a fantastic existential allegory (so, too, did Camus, most notably). Abe's narrative works on many levels, even if he does beat the insect metaphor to death on several of these. And it's a fair bit more balanced and polished than, say, The Box Man. I just personally cannot deal with books where characters are trapped in relatively absurd situations, physically, psychologically, or otherwise. It adds an unwanted tension to the reading experience.

That said, I read it in a matter...more
You will never look at sand the same way again!
This would be a great book for discussion. I will be pondering some of Abe's thoughts and images for a very long time. Here you have a protagonist who goes on vacation and truly gets stuck in a rut. At the same time he must repeatedly
dig and dig to keep from being buried by the constantly moving sand...yes, a metaphor which becomes a complex analogy with more and more to reflect upon as you read on. Recommended.
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The World's Liter...: Part II (ch 11-27) 11 21 Oct 30, 2012 12:18PM  
The World's Liter...: Part III (ch 28-31) 8 26 Oct 30, 2012 12:05PM  
The World's Liter...: Part I (ch 1-10) 13 38 Oct 30, 2012 10:32AM  
the woman in dunes 4 98 Oct 07, 2011 07:31AM  
  • The Three-Cornered World
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Wild Geese
  • The Setting Sun
  • The Silent Cry
  • Snow Country
  • Fires on the Plain
  • Masks
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
  • Tales of Moonlight and Rain
Kōbō Abe, pseudonym of Kimifusa Abe, was a Japanese writer, playwright, photographer and inventor.

He was the son of a doctor and studied medicine at Tokyo University. He never practised however, giving it up to join a literary group that aimed to apply surrealist techniques to Marxist ideology.

Abe has been often compared to Franz Kafka and Alberto Moravia for his surreal, often nightmarish explor...more
More about Kōbō Abe...
The Box Man The Face of Another The Ruined Map Secret Rendezvous Kangaroo Notebook

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“Loneliness was an unsatisfied thirst for illusion.” 54 likes
“Do you shovel to survive, or survive to shovel?” 35 likes
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