The Box Man by Kobo Abe ; translated by E. Dale Saunders
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. First American Edition. Hardcover. 178 pages ; 21 cm. $6.95 dust jacket. Very good copy; no underlines or markings within the pages. Satisfaction guaranteed!
Confirming his mastery of the philosophical thriller, writing with all the surreal brilliance that has won worldwide admiration for his many works, among them The Woman in the Dunes—and that has now established him as Japan's foremost contemporary novelist—Kobo Abé gives us a fantastic and chilling novel, halfway between Beckett and Vonnegut, the hypnotic journal of an anonymous Box Man.
Anyone can become a Box Man—there are plenty of them around—once you irretrievably toss away your credit cards, address book, job, responsibilities, nonportable possessions, all the appurtenances of the Compulsory Life, and find a suitable box ....
It takes a little courage to put the box over your head and a little skill to create a home within it. But the only essential is a large, empty carton with no markings on the outside (if the box has any striking features, your all-important anonymity is lost) . Tear off the bottom, insulate the rest with tape, cut a peephole (so you can see out without being seen) gather a few toilet articles, perhaps some snapshots to tape to the walls, a small radio for news, a ballpoint, a flashlight....
This is the home you will wear henceforth as a turtle wears his shell. You'll be Cut loose from anchor, finding additional shelter—and a strange kind of self-possession—under bridges, in passageways, in underground stations. Total freedom? Total security? Not quite ....
Our Box Man's harmless existence is invaded by a curious and dangerous plot . . . someone wants to buy his box . . . he bargains . . . he (almost) falls in love . . . he looks out through his peephole, sensing a kind of collusion with everyone he spies on . . . and gradually we adapt to his vision, see the lies and secret intentions that he sees concealed behind everything outside .....
Abé's extraordinary creation—at once a portrait of the intensely vulnerable, vigilantly self-protective man-in-society and of the outcast who affirms himself by letting go—exists in a hallucinatory but completely credible world. Drawn into that world, the reader finds himself probing how much he himself is reflected in the Box Man's feelings and actions, his fears, his naked hatred, his timid confession of love for everything he encounters, his haunting fight —and truce—with life.
"A finely drawn masterpiece."—D0NALD KEENE
E. Dale Saunders, the translator of all of Abé's novels published in English, received his A.B. from Western Reserve University ( 1941), his M.A. from Harvard University (1948), and his Ph.D. from the University of Paris (1952). He is Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, having previously taught at International Christian University, Tokyo, and at Harvard.
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