Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kobo Abe, "The Woman in the Dunes" (1964 first American edition, with original Knopf press letter)

I was recently in Washington D.C. and saw some very tempting rare books by Kenzaburo Oe at The Second Story Bookshop and thought I'd share one of my modern Japanese classics. While I have a few of Oe's early books I might share later on, I'd like to focus here on Kobo Abe. I fell hard into the world of Kobo Abe by way of his collaborations with the filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara; I saw the film of The Woman in the Dunes and was floored by its surreal, sensual madness. I think The Woman in the Dunes, along with Abe's The Box Man can form a pretty direct line to the contemporary Japanese magical realism of Haruki Murakami; if you like Murakami, look to Abe to see where it all originated.

The Woman in the Dunes is about an entomologist who gets trapped in a widow's hut while doing field research. Her hut is slowly being consumed by the surrounding dunes, and the entomologist must try to stave off the flow of sand in order for the villagers to agree to aid him. Things blur between Sisyphean and psychosexual as the entomologist finds himself drawn physically to the widow.

This is a first American Edition, originally published by Knopf in 1964. I picked it up at the Strand in Manhattan about three years ago for around $40 -- some copies are currently out there for a little more, around $65, while others are as high as $400. The condition of the book is great but the jacket's not so good, as there are a few closed tears along the spine. The coloring still looks remarkably bright, too (although the page details I photographed look brown in my low-light...).

The book has some illustrations throughout by Machi Abe, and features this terrifying page right at its beginning:

I also was thrilled to find this wedged into the book: a press letter from Knopf to a "Mrs. Crist", sent at the request of the the production company that put out Teshigahara's film that same year. How exciting!

Currently reading:
Bonita Avenue, by Peter Buwalda

Currently listening to:
Bing and Ruth, "Tomorrow Was the Golden Age"

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