Sand dunes. Coastal region in an unspecified part of Japan. At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Jumpei Niki, a science teacher and amateur entomologist, seeks to examine the sand dunes in a scientific manner, describing their physical properties and attempting to control them through rational strategies, clearly a defensive gesture to avoid confronting the existential reality of his situation. However, the sands quickly become a pervasive and unavoidable dimension of his existence, permeating his clothes, irritating his skin, and always present in his mouth. He finally comes to accept the presence of the sand dunes and to view them not as an enemy to be controlled but as a force to be worked with. At the novel’s conclusion, he uses his knowledge of science in order to construct a trap to collect condensed water from the sands.
Abe spent his boyhood in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, whose desert landscapes made a strong impact on his consciousness. The constantly changing, wind-blown shapes of the desert sands came to symbolize to him the fluid and transitory nature of what people take to be “reality” in the everyday world. Abe’s sand imagery in his novel presents an existential vision of reality that rejects any conceptualized and rationalized view of the world—the objective attitude of science, for example—that posits enduring and fixed absolutes through which human beings experience and manipulate...
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