The World's Literature: Korea discussion

The Woman in the Dunes
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message 1: by Beth Asmaa (last edited Oct 20, 2012 07:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments The story of a teacher Niki Jumpei, who disappears on the Japanese seacoast while searching for new species of sand insects. Part I of the novel begins seven years after his disappearance from the city then flashes back to what prevented his returning.


message 2: by Beth Asmaa (last edited Oct 20, 2012 07:49PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments Part One of Woman in the Dunes starts with a protagonist taking a short trip from the city to find new species of sand insects. Surprisingly to him, he becomes the ensnared instead of the ensnarer in the remote dunes of the Japanese seacoast. Apparently, ten years ago an event occurred which made the villagers dwell in houses set down in deep sand pits and buried each night. All his schemes of escape from the enslavement of nightly shoveling it into barrels with other villagers are so that he can freely return to his "gray" humdrum alienated life. But, each scheme proves faulty in reality.

Meanwhile, his efforts at escape from the sixty-foot pit teach him about the properties of sand and about its interaction with wind, quantity, and moisture. This poem "Sabulation" depicts how people live amidst the effects of being surrounded by its fine particles--irritation, erosion, smothering, pervasiveness--like the experiences in Kōbō Abe's story where apparently "...you exist only for the purpose of clearing away the sand...", but the novel goes into much detail.


message 3: by Haaze (last edited Oct 27, 2012 11:23PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Haaze | 33 comments @Asma
Thanks for the synopsis. I find Abe's style perplexing. Interestingly I really enjoyed the initial chapters depicting his quest for collecting insects as I have been in those shoes myself. I understand that Abe was trained as a doctor, but then devoted himself to writing rather than the medical profession. He must have had at least some life science under his belt to write so vividly about the insects.
I keep thinking about Kafka as I am reading these chapters. The main character almost seems transformed into a beetle himself digging and living in a sea of sand. It is quite unsettling as we as readers are in the same situation. We do not know why he is in the sand or what the future holds apart from his early clues of the upcoming danger. As I was pondering the book today I also felt that it had a dreamlike texture. Is he just dreaming all of this? Perhaps the dream hypothesis is negated by the statement in the first chapter about a missing person?
Regardless, Abe is an interesting writer although I am not sure how well it resonates with my own views. At this point I am intrigued enough to want to find out how his dilemma unfolds.

What did you think about the first section of the book Asma?


message 4: by Zenmoon (last edited Oct 28, 2012 02:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zenmoon | 1 comments My copy of Abe's book arrived this week and I'm up to chapter 7. So far it's a pretty compulsive and easy read. It's no accident he's been compared to Kafka; the style of the narrative reminds me a lot of The Trial and The Metamorphosis. Like Kafka's stories, this story unravels with a very realist tone, despite the obvious surreality of events. The edition I have has a Time quote attached, which flags the book as 'a haunting Kafkaesque nightmare'. No kidding - I'm already feeling the claustrophobia building. I agree with you Haaze, it's definitely unsettling.


Haaze | 33 comments Zenmoon wrote: "No kidding - I'm already feeling the claustrophobia building. I agree with you Haaze, it's definitely unsettling"

Zenmoon, you are definitely right about the compulsive aspects although I felt that slow down in part II. The novel changes tone there. Right now I feel the sand coming into my soul so Abe has truly conjured up the sand dervishes! I wonder if he intended to copy Kafka's style of entrapment or if it is a reflection of something else. It is definitely a pretty odd approach to a novel. It feels strangely staged and nightmarish. Why did he write this piece?


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments I don't know how I feel about the introductory Part One. He trusts the villagers without suspicion of what is to come. Perhaps Niki thinks that the absence of the ladder is an oversight. He makes the first attempt to help himself. He is angry at being delayed; but he knows less than he thinks about his environment. Part Two gets interesting with the attempted escapes and much else.


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments Niki is having a "nightmare"; he is disoriented. The urban, democratic certainties don't work here. He has to labor physically (a bit different than teaching). This sand and human skin don't mix well. He's hot, thirsty, and shovels sand all night. My copy compares Niki's circumstances to the myth of Sisyphus.


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments "Abe has truly conjured up the sand dervishes!" sounds intriguing and windblown, but I get the idea that the performance and pattern of the sands is regular and is happening by natural laws. Yes, I can see the constant movement of sand in the figure of speech about dervishes. These "sabulations" are not unique to the Japanese seacoast but are familiar to dunes in Arabia and elsewhere. The sand isn't motionless or static.


Haaze | 33 comments Asma wrote: ""The sand isn't motionless or static.."

Yes, I couldn't help to bring a little supernatural thinking to the discussion as the writing is so unreal in the first place. But is the motion of the sand similar to the circumstances of life? Is the everlasting battle with the sand an analogy to life itself? Are we trapped in our lives?


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments I think so. The book's analogy of the "round-trip ticket" hints that we cling to (are "trapped" by) the known and the imagined rather than ascertaining whether our imaginings might not be tweaked by real experience.


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments Zenmoon wrote: "...It's no accident he's been compared to Kafka; the style of the narrative reminds me a lot of The Trial and The Metamorphosis. Like Kafka's stories, this story unravels with a very realist tone, despite the obvious surreality of events...."

This would make a good discussion. Perhaps some readers of "The Metamorphosis" could lend their input.


Haaze | 33 comments Asma wrote: "This would make a good discussion. Perhaps some readers of "The Metamorphosis" could lend their input. ."

Except for that he does not turn into a beetle nor is rejected by his loved ones..... Kafka seems to be focusing on how one's identity is rejected based on a shift in appearance (but how can a beautiful beetle be rejected after all?) while Abe focuses on a complete transition of the surrounding reality. They seem like apples and oranges, although the immediate writing style seems similar. Abe seems to be copying Kafka in that sense....


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments You're right, Haaze. Nkik Jumpei's change is internal rather than external, and his internal changes invigorates his perspective of the landscape. If anything, he develops some trust with the villagers, who rescue him from certain death in the sandy swamp, who regularly hoist the shoveled sand and deliver special items like cigarettes. The novel's title refers to the woman. Her personality and behavior benefit his condition and his adaptation--a positive connection.


message 14: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 53 comments Asma Fedosia wrote: "I think so. The book's analogy of the "round-trip ticket" hints that we cling to (are "trapped" by) the known and the imagined rather than ascertaining whether our imaginings might not be tweaked b..."

i wonder if the round trip ticket and the Mr. moibus of the Moibus band are related. They are both circular and anti-linear (the beginning and end are the same), but linear in that the Moibus band has only one side and walking it brings you back to where you started--an unplanned return.


Beth Asmaa (wildbirdmom) | 3317 comments Susan wrote: "i wonder if the round trip ticket and the Mr. moibus of the Moibus band are related..."

I would say so, Susan. Jumpei calls the fellow Möbius man, then shortly afterward describing the Möbius strip, see the excerpt from the novel. Susan, that's a great observation about the similarity between Jumpei's "round trip ticket" with the circularity of the Möbius strip. Also, the Möbius strip is self-contained. Jumpei makes many plans to evade or escape from the Möbius band of his predicament. Never does but finally accepts the reality of his presence in the village (sees his niche, sort of). He never planned to stay at the beginning until by a twist of circumstances he is caught, though it takes him the whole story to connect to the reality of sand, water, and his life to find a satisfying outcome. Those passages about Möbius man I'd entirely passed over or had forgotten, so thanks for pointing out that significant part(s) in the story :)


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