The Woman in the Dunes is Abe’s most popular novel, no doubt in part because it was made into a film in 1963. The film was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964. The story begins with the disappearance of Niki Jumpei, a young teacher. It traces Niki’s difficult journey into his own consciousness and his finding his identity. The sand dunes, with their sands constantly encroaching upon the residents of the village that abducts Jumpei, are a powerful metaphor of one’s struggle to discover one’s identity.
Niki Jumpei likes to collect insects, so he goes one day to the sand dunes in a remote area, hoping to find some unusual ones for his collection. Once there, he becomes trapped at the bottom of a sand pit, only to discover that a woman lives there. She appears to think of him as a substitute for her dead husband.
Although there seems to be little meaningful life there, in order to survive at all, Niki must, daily, shovel away the sand that accumulates. Abe skillfully uses minute detail to make the reader remain ever aware of the completely invasive nature of the sand into every part of daily existence. After adapting somewhat, Niki then rejects this absurd life and fights to escape. During this period, he often abuses the woman with whom he shares the sand-pit home because she accepts so passively what he is fighting to escape. Ultimately, however, Niki not only comes to terms with the strange kind...
(The entire section is 469 words.)