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The story begins when teacher and amateur entymologist, Jumpei Niki, decides to get away from things for awhile and searches for insects in an isolated desert region of Japan near the sea. When he realizes he's missed the last bus back to a "real" town, the local villagers offer to find him a place to stay for the night.
Although there are no hotels available, Jumpei is escorted to a rope ladder extending down into a pit in the sand. At the bottom he finds a ramshakle hut and a lone woman living in a bizarre situation; she spends the entire night, every night, shoveling sand away from her home in order to stave off her own burial and the subsequent destruction of the village. The sand is given to the villagers in return for water and other necessities, something the woman views as "community spirit."
To his horror, Jumpei awakens to find the rope laffer gone and discovers he's been targeted as the woman's new partner and "helper." Jumpei resists and even makes a futile attempt at escape, to which the woman says, "I'm really sorry. But honestly there hasn't been a single person to get out yet."
Inevitably, Jumpei and the woman engage in a series of sexual encounters that have more to do with an affirmation of life than with physical or emotional attraction. This book is many things, but a love story is definitely not one of them.
When the woman (who remains nameless) suffers an ectopic pregnancy, Jumpei suddenly finds himself alone in the pit and free to go, yet enigmatically (or so it may seem), he refuses to do so.
Obviously, this shattering and gorgeous story is open to many levels of interpretation; only a few are obvious.
Jumpei clearly represents the "new, Westernized" Japan, while the woman personifies "traditional" Japan and tate mae. Rather than buying into the futility of life, the woman calmly accepts the role life has assigned to her with dignity and patience.
Although she is often treated unfairly (and even abused) by Jumpei, the woman in the dunes still bathes him regularly and cooks his dinner every day, accepting him without anger or scorn.
Westerners may view the woman in the dunes as complacent and weak, but in reality, she is anything but. Her ability to carry on day after day, in the face of overwhelming odds, as well as her seeming peace of mind personify the maxim that suffering exists only in the eye of the beholder.
At times, the message of this book may seem to be that life is futile; that no matter how much you struggle, you'll simply be forced to struggle again and again, so much so that when opportunity does come knocking, a useless existence may seem safer than an uncertain freedom.
The real problem, however, and the crux of this book, is one of perspective. Although Jumpei's "old" life may seem to be the better and the more fulfilling (as well as the more free), is it really? If you were to ask the woman in the dunes, I think she might smile, turn her head shyly and suggest you get back to work.
This is a very interesting book very sparse like the works of Kawabata and it is centered around the one man Junpei, Thw woman is never given a name. The woman, however, is the most interesting character in the book she is a very hard worker, who is very complacent, doing almost whatever Junpei says. However, when Junpei goes against the ways of the dune she mildly speaks her mind, and when he pushes her too far she pummels him.
A very nice read. Check it out.
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Upon picking up The Box Man and reading the first page, I naively and laughably thought that this was to be a sort of social commentary or just a story about homeless people. No, that wasn't at all the case. Apparently, unlike a regular homeless person, a "box man" has some sort of extremely deep philosophy that singles him out as someone who lives on a higher plane of existence. Except after reading the book, I came not a bit closer to understanding what this philosophy is, or to caring about finding out. This was exacerbated by Abe's extremely self-indulgent style, in which no concern is exhibited for time or flow, random unidentified narrators come and go with no warning, pages and pages are occupied with pseudo-intellectual "societal observations" and uninteresting non sequiturs, and so forth.
Keep in mind that such a style doesn't have to be bad. Plenty of authors like to jump around in time and make up their own stylistic rules. Plenty of authors like to wax eloquent about society. Plenty of authors come up with absurd premises and make great works out of them. But there are authors who do this well, and those who do not. The Box Man has laughably been called "surreal." But something like, say, Un Chien Andalou, though it also has absolutely no actual narrative structure, is chock full of striking images, which are memorable despite having nothing to do with reality or even with each other. The Box Man tries to be like that. It tries very, very hard, and it is very self-conscious about it. But it fails, because there is nothing above the norm in it - just a desire to "break conventions" for the sake of breaking conventions, to break conventions as a substitute for narrative, commentary, characterization, originality, emotion, and any worthwhile thought. Supposedly there is a nominal narrative here (there's something about an unsolved murder in places), and supposedly there's an existential parable here (some people ask themselves and each other some wooden and ham-handed questions about existence), but really, there is nothing even original (to say nothing of "masterful") about any of this. And don't even get me started on the oh-so-affected "photo inserts" with their oh-so-affected captions.
Woman in the Dunes leaves me spellbound, but The Box Man is an utter waste of time. It's shorter than Woman in the Dunes (178 pages in my edition) but every single line is an excruciating exercise in tedium. And as you read, you'll get the feeling that Abe is deliberately insulting your intelligence by writing such pretentious nonsense when he has shown himself to be capable of masterpieces. Stay far, far away from this "novel."
There are elements of identity problems in this book, as far as I can see anyway. The person lives in a box, he/she doesnt have a name, and he/she usually only looks at people while they in turn, people, only see a box, if that. That's pretty cut n'dry. Again, there are other books that attack this idea more vicously. See: Fight Club
My biggest problem with the book is this: I have no clue if the box man was a murder or not. I love biggest problems and I consider this to be a rather large one, unanswered questions. So, Ill give this my recommendation, but, will the joke be on you?
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