A review from Amazon.com that cites both books for this month:
The Kobo Abe novel "Woman in the Dunes" is a strangely evocative novel that sketches, with devastating accuracy, the feeling of being alienated from society.Junpei is a typical salaryman in Tokyo, and typically as well, he has a hobby, collecting insects. Lest this sound esoteric, it's not--bug collecting is a hobby as popular as collecting baseball cards is here. In other words, Junpei is "everyman."However, Junpei seems to be undergoing, subtly, some kind of personal dissolution. He heads for vacation on the coast to pick up more specimens and presumably clear his head so he can go back to work and act as he's expected to act. The reader is left to fill in much of Junpei's state of mind and even Americans, not tuned into Japanese culture, can imagine his struggle.Somehow, Junpei finds himself trapped, physically trapped in a village that is constantly threatened by extinction under the shifting dunes. Each night, the entire village shovels sand to reclaim their tiny foothold. The village headman lodges Junpei with a widow and he is expected to take up the shovel with the other villagers.Not to participate is not an option; Junpei at first struggles with his captivity. He goes on strike. Soon, however, like the bugs he once anaesthetized in a jar, he ceases to flutter and becomes a part of the village life--though constantly mindful he is an prisoner.
As in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" from which Abe clearly is drawing, Junpei becomes more and more distanced from his previous life in Tokyo. Shamefully, secretly, he becomes sexual entangled with the young widow, in a way that seems almost as if he is unaware of the impact this will have on their lives. He is finding a home and a purpose and he's needed. And wanted.The metaphor for Japanese society, where utter conformity is the ultimate value, and for the inevitable alienation individuals must feel, is magnificent. Even our own society, which allows for magnitudes more individuality and freedom, is reflected strangely in this masterpiece of a novel.This book never gets old to me, and seems as timeless as the sands that Abe uses to stand for life's inhuman struggles and how we meet them together. A must-read."}