The Woman in the Dunes

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 locals have other plans. Held captive with seemingly no chance of escape, he is tasked with shoveling back the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten to destroy the village. His only companion is an odd young woman. Together their fates become intertwined as they work side by side at this Sisyphean task.This beautiful novel by one of Japan’s most important writers is also one of the most strangely terrifying and memorable books you’ll ever read. The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town. An amazing book.

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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3 Comments

  1. 1/8 millimeter This had to be one of the most bizarre pieces of literature I have ever read — but that’s a good thing, really. It’s a very claustrophobic work — the setting is ultimately very very small and limited. I think this was a really cool effect — it made us feel more “at home” with where the characters were. 

  2. Freedom versus responsibility Kobo Abe’s excellent novel “The Woman in the Dunes” examines the nature of how man relates his responsibilities to his sense of freedom. The protagonist is a schoolteacher named Niki Jumpei who collects insects as a hobby and, on a holiday, goes to a sandy seashore in search of rare specimens. Near the shore he finds a most curiously constructed village — the houses are sunk into individual sand pits. When he misses the last bus back to civilization, the villagers assign him to…

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