The Woman in the Dunes

Kobe Abé

An entomologist seeks out a remote seaside village for an insect expedition and as night falls seeks shelter from the villagers. They offer him shelter with a widow who lives in a house inside a deep sand pit and he wakes up in the morning to discover they have removed the ladder, trapping him. In time he discovers that a few villagers basically live a life of slavery, spending all night shoveling sand both to protect their fragile houses from destruction and for commerce, as the sand is sold to builders, even though it shouldn’t be due to its high salt content. The beginning of the novel in some ways reveals the ending (he is eventually declared dead since he never returns or is found), but the exact nature of that status is the core philosophy of this existential novel.

Also an avant-garde film.