Sunday, April 3, 2016

Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

'A schoolteacher from Tokyo, visits a fishing village to collect insects. After missing the last bus, he is led to a house in the dunes that can be reached only by ladder. The next morning the ladder is gone and he finds he is expected to keep the house clear of sand with the woman living there, with whom he is also to produce children. He eventually gives up trying to escape when he comes to realize returning to his old life would give him no more liberty. After seven years he is proclaimed officially dead.'   Description from the publisher

"The barrenness of sand, as it is usually pictured, was not caused by simple dryness, but apparently was due to the ceaseless movement that made it inhospitable to all living things. What a difference compared with the dreary way human beings clung together year in year out."

I read this work in a voracious hunger.  It was the most satisfying read I'd had for a very long time.  The concept was akin to a locked door mystery, in that, there was no way to escape the situation, it was about solving the question placed before the reader... how could someone read this work and sympathize with the characters, and perceive what it could mean.  The constant fight against the dunes, the love and lust between characters, and the inevitable choice of abandoning the situation, or, more amazingly coming to terms with it, all are dramatic struggles that must be felt in order to consume the truth.

"It goes on, terrifyingly repetitive. One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life."

As a watcher of the film it is even worse, because, the manner of cinematography allows for a feeling of claustrophobia that the words in the book only hint at.  The encroaching sands and heat, the world so small, you feel as if there is no answer, unless you surrender.  But what will you lose if you do? 

The film and book both capture the sense of loss of control and personal sovereignty, at the same time, the woman is beautiful, life isn't horrible, and what else was there for the teacher, now partner in sand pushing?

"Only a shipwrecked person who has just escaped drowning could understand the psychology of someone who breaks out in laughter just because he is able to breathe."

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