David Haws's Reviews > The Woman in the Dunes

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
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's review
Feb 06, 12

bookshelves: japanese-fiction
Read from January 28 to February 04, 2012

Such a powerful novel.

This was my morning book; I read it for half an hour every morning after I took a shower and was waiting for my hair to dry enough to walk to school. After a couple days, I could feel “grit” gathering at the corners of my eyes.

I thought the “copulation” scene at the beginning of the 21st chapter captures the essence of the book: “Man’s convulsions go on building endless layers of fossils. Dinosaur teeth and glaciers were powerless against this reproductive drive.” We are prisoners of our own selfish genes; which is to say we are prisoners of our Self. The Sand Woman (砂の女) is like the piece of rotting fish used to bait the crow trap, except that Jumpei takes the bait. We lead lives of relative misery or comfort, but when the species calls to us, we do what it wants.

I think it’s significant that the woman submits to Jumpei (clearly, in a willing way, even if she feels degraded) but when he is going to rape her in front of the villagers (for their amusement, and to get access to the ladder rope) she beats him to a pulp. She is not defenseless. She is the dune—miniscule in the detail, unrelenting in the aggregate.

While reading the book, I couldn’t help thinking of the Japanese “Internment” in America during the Second World War.(the 19th of this month marks the 70th anniversary of EO9066). With the exception of the camps in Arkansas, They were all places like this—battling isolation and the relentless desert grit. When you look at the pictures as they were being taken to the initial Assembly Centers, they (the “internees”) also looked like they were off on a day trip (smiles and hiking boots). And when they got there, they too were surprised to realize that the guns and search lights were all pointing in the wrong direction. (Some of them too—like Jumpei—as bad as the camps were—ended up wanting to stay.)

This makes me really want to see the movie, and read some of his other books.
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