The Woman in the Dunes – Kōbō Abe

The Woman in the Dunes

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.

Junpei an entomologist on a mission to find rarest sand beetles finds himself deceivingly trapped by the villagers in a sand dune to dig up loads of sand in order to sell it to the cities. The sandpit encloses a widow’s house who manipulates Junpei to help her clear the sand or her house may collapse with its graveness.

Influenced on the lines of Sartre’s ‘No Exit’; conveys existence of a “hell hole” that life somehow seems to open when stagnated survival justifies adaptation. It’s only through the darkness of hell does the irony of hope and absurdity thrive the strongest. The sand filled dwelling of enslaved Junpei is a metaphor of the daily anguish of a modern lives depleted in a bedlam and uncertainty of optimism and ludicrousness. Abe speaks about adapting without being adamant on a fixed position to survive the competition.

“Didn’t unpleasant competition arise precisely because one tried to cling to a fixed position? If one were to give up a fixed position and abandon oneself to the movement of the sands, competition would soon stop.”

The ubiquitous sand emerges to be a disposition in its own transforming from a soundless spectator to a sadistic tormentor with harrowing depths of obscurity and ordeal. Sand with its mass of minute grains is a nasty piece of work corroding every speck of trust propelling it into an abyss of sardonic paranoia.

Primarily Junpei appeared to be a pathetic and more interested ogling at the naked widow rather than trying hard to free himself. But as the novel proceeded one could find him to be a victim of impractical circumstances drowned in confusion and horror. Until he could make sense of the happenings, time had elapsed and made him sympathetic towards the woman and accustomed to infertile survival. Junpei’s return to the sand dune after having a successful escape and garnered sympathy towards the widow and villagers, exhibit signs of the Stockholm syndrome.

Is it then that the barren sand resembles the utilitarian perils that we as individuals strive against everyday and at times when the going gets tough, we resort to detrimental actions or are compassionate to the soulless endurance?

4/5****

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