The calligraphy above translates from the Japanese as “sand sand sand sand.” Why my sudden interest in suna, as the Japanese word is transcribed? Simply because I very much appreciate that the first (and, so far, only) foreign translation of the book has now been published, and, being back in London, I now have the pleasure of holding a copy in my hands. And what a strange experience that is – something so intimately familiar, yet so inaccessibly alien:
It is a beautifully produced hardback publication (translated by Yumiko Hayashi and published by Tsukiji-Shokan), more compact than the US or UK editions. And it has what is now the third different cover graphic, and a separate wrap-around:
It, of course, starts from what is, for us, the back, a flip through the pages yielding only the occasional glimpse of familiarity – the illustrations:
And, having flipped for the first time, a sudden sense of alarm arose – where are the plates? A second flip revealed that they are indeed there, but all bound in at the very beginning (the back), before anything else.
So there it is, a fascinating symbol, an elegant example of Japanese script with its calligraphic variations. This instantly reminded me of one of the many personal discoveries made during the research for Sand, the strange, often surreal, yet compelling book by Kono Abe and film by Hiroshi Teshigahara, Suna no onna, “Woman of the Dunes.” Sometimes translated as “Woman in the Dunes,” the original title is, more accurately, simply “Sand Woman.”
Here’s what I briefly wrote in Chapter 5:
Woman in the Dunes, the 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for two Oscars. Based on the novel by Kobo Abe, the setting is the sweeping wilderness of sand dunes along the Japanese coast at Tottori. An amateur insect collector finds himself abducted and consigned to cohabit with a woman whose crumbling house lies at the bottom of a deep depression in the dunes; she exists “only for the purpose of clearing away the sand.” The sand constantly threatens the house, an outpost on the edge of a village, “already corroded by the sand,” whose way of life is defined by fighting the dunes and selling the salt-tainted sand—illegally—to construction companies. In both the book and the film, sand is the enemy but also the central character. The meticulous cinematography and Abe’s writing beautifully document sand grains and their movement: liquid avalanches descending on the house, windblown grains, and the forms of shifting dunes. The book is a lesson in the behaviors of granular materials. And, inevitably, the sand is a powerful metaphor for time: “Monotonous weeks of sand and night had gone by.”
Looking at various original film posters and book covers, there it is, in yet further variations, the symbol that I have now become quite fascinated by:
So, my thanks to the Japanese publishers – and their readers – for their interest and my novel experience. And, if any readers of this blog could provide me with a translation of what, in particular, the wrap-around says, I would be most interested!