30 January 2012

Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

Thoughts and Reflections
This was a strange, but enjoyable novel. I had no idea what to expect when I turned to the first page, but quickly found myself caught up in the plot. What at first seemed like a normal day-trip, turned into a new lifestyle for the protagonist. Thought it was hard to watch the change, the story raised a number of questions about life and humanity.

The books begins with the protagonist taking a trip to the dunes to collect insects. He decides to stay in a nearby village for the night, which, though strange, seemed welcoming enough. However, he soon finds himself trapped in a house with a widow. The villagers indicate that he will now help the widow in the endless task of shoveling sand. This task is both the main economy of the village, but also the key to survival in the village. The protagonist resists and attempts escape, but eventually becomes accustomed to this new life and foregoes a newly presented opportunity for escape.

Oppression is a key theme in this novel. It comes in two forms. One form being the villagers keeping the protagonist captive and another form being the ever encroaching sand which must be shoveled away every day. At first the protagonist resists the oppression, both trying to run away and vocalising how pointless a life it is to spend constantly shoveling the sand away. Eventually, however, he merely becomes accustomed to the oppression and the life in the dunes.

The book goes through a long explanation of the sexual relationship between the protagonist and the widow. I understood this as the conflict of adjusting to and resisting the oppression. The protagonist saw the woman and one of the captors. At the same time, he began to see her as a woman, a woman with whom he was supposed to, according to the villagers, take as his wife, essentially. I understand the importance of this conflict, but found this explanation overlong. However, undoubtedly, his relationship with the widow played a role in his eventual adjustment to the life of sand and captivity.

I enjoyed the book and the turn of events. The author wrote in such a way that the reader felt the panic at being trapped right along with the protagonist. By the end of the novel, I could understand the protagonist, but not entirely agree with his final passivity. I like to think I would have tried to escape again.

All in all, I enjoyed the book and found myself thinking about it long after I had finished it. I would certainly recommend giving this novel a read and would love to hear any other impressions on it!

About the Author
Kobo Abe is the pseudonym for Kimifusa Abe, who was born in 1924 in Manchuria (now Shen-yang). He returned to Japan in 1941and began to attend the Toyko Imperial University in 1943, studying medicine. He was first published as a poet in 1947 and published his first novel in 1948. His novel Woman in the Dunes, published in 1962, established his reputation and won him widespread acclaim and won him the Yomiuri Award. Abe had been nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times. He died in 1993.

Things I Liked About This Novel
1. The surreal aspect of the novel.
2. The plot as a challenge to what is worthwhile in life.
3. The language used was penetrating and poignant.

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