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The Box Man: A Novel [Paperback]

Kobo Abe
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 10 2001 Vintage International
Kobo Abe, the internationally acclaimed author of Woman in the Dunes, combines wildly imaginative fantasies and naturalistic prose to create narratives reminiscent of the work of Kafka and Beckett.

In this eerie and evocative masterpiece, the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head. Wandering the streets of Tokyo and scribbling madly on the interior walls of his box, he describes the world outside as he sees or perhaps imagines it, a tenuous reality that seems to include a mysterious rifleman determined to shoot him, a seductive young nurse, and a doctor who wants to become a box man himself. The Box Man is a marvel of sheer originality and a bizarrely fascinating fable about the very nature of identity.

Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders.

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From Amazon

The nature of identity itself is the ostensible subject of this bizarrely fascinating existential novel from the great Japanese fiction writer and dramatist Kobo Abe. In the story, a man decides to give up the self that he has been all his life to attain a state of blissful anonymity. He leaves his world behind and moves onto the streets of Tokyo. He puts a large box over his head, cuts a hole for his eyes. It is as strange as it sounds, but Abe's light touch and narrative innovation makes it compelling. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“A spellbinder from beginnning to end, an edgy masterpiece.”–Chicago Sun-Times

“A stunning addition to the literature of eccentricity…an ontological thriller.”–The New York Times

“Brilliant…. Like Kafka’s, Abe’s work reveals an astonishing ability to create dreamlike events."–Chicago Tribune

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick, stimulating, and a little mind-boggling April 11 2007
By K
Comparisons often drawn with Kafka are pretty immediately apparent; for about 180 pages (in translation, from the original Japanese) Abe successively stuffs his characters, himself, and ultimately his readers into the enigmatic cardboard box which so readily identifies the 'box man'. A somewhat unreliable narrator, through a series of scribbled notes and blurry photographs, describes his own transformation into a box man, its dangers and appeals, and the unique perspective it can bring to one's existence in the world. The style fits elegantly and seamlessly to its author's purpose, bringing to life the sliver of landscape, the naked leg, and the absence of sky so sparingly afforded the box man through his narrow peep-hole.

Despite one somewhat clumsy, facetious dialogue between two characters about just who is a figment of whom's imagination, the book unfolds in a pleasing, well-organized mess of philosophical musings and subtleties.
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3.0 out of 5 stars a title for your review March 6 2002
Half the time I wasn't sure what the heck was going on so I consider this book to be, in part, a book questioning reality/ontology. The "box man" would ramble on about some scenario/reality/happening and then reveal that it was all his imagination. That's pretty much how my life goes about, more imagination than substance, so this book is a rather effective looking-glass. Given that, this plays a significant role in the play of "my dissatisfaction with the book." I don't want to be reminded of my anonymity and social lackings. I have little problem recommending this book to others--sometimes i recommend bad books to people for my own kicks--but there are other books I'd prefer to see sittin in my lap. In keeping with the question of reality, if its even addressed in this book (what the heck do i know--answer: nothing) I'd prefer to read Mark Daneilewski's House of Leaves or Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and definitely The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban (I list these books only to impress you. It's pure show.).
There are elements of identity problems in this book, as far as I can see anyway. The person lives in a box, he/she doesnt have a name, and he/she usually only looks at people while they in turn, people, only see a box, if that. That's pretty cut n'dry. Again, there are other books that attack this idea more vicously. See: Fight Club
My biggest problem with the book is this: I have no clue if the box man was a murder or not. I love biggest problems and I consider this to be a rather large one, unanswered questions. So, Ill give this my recommendation, but, will the joke be on you?
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5.0 out of 5 stars identity Aug. 17 2002
The Box Man delves into what it is to be seen and what it is to see, the phenomenon of looking and being looked at. There are many parallels with sartre's Being and Nothingness - the idea that one despises being looked at because he is forced to think about his imperfect facticity, and that the unseen viewer, be it at sartre's keyhole or abe's observation window, is put in the privledge position of remaining pure transcendance, or purely beings of the mental realms that are untouchable by the outside world. Abe's style of writing leaves the reader guessing whether or not he is the voyeur or the exhibitionist.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Completely nonessential. July 14 2002
I think of The Box Man by Kobo Abe and I try to recall one memorable image, or one compelling character, or one trenchant observation, or indeed one particularly inventive or colourful turn of phrase. I can't come up with a single one. It baffles me how someone can write something as memorable, compelling, trenchant, inventive and colourful as Woman in the Dunes, and then write something as devoid of any of these qualities as The Box Man. My only explanation is that this was written by a Kobo Abe from a strange parallel universe where Abe never wrote anything good, and somehow made its way here through a rift in space and time.
Upon picking up The Box Man and reading the first page, I naively and laughably thought that this was to be a sort of social commentary or just a story about homeless people. No, that wasn't at all the case. Apparently, unlike a regular homeless person, a "box man" has some sort of extremely deep philosophy that singles him out as someone who lives on a higher plane of existence. Except after reading the book, I came not a bit closer to understanding what this philosophy is, or to caring about finding out. This was exacerbated by Abe's extremely self-indulgent style, in which no concern is exhibited for time or flow, random unidentified narrators come and go with no warning, pages and pages are occupied with pseudo-intellectual "societal observations" and uninteresting non sequiturs, and so forth.
Keep in mind that such a style doesn't have to be bad. Plenty of authors like to jump around in time and make up their own stylistic rules. Plenty of authors like to wax eloquent about society. Plenty of authors come up with absurd premises and make great works out of them. But there are authors who do this well, and those who do not.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
a contemporary novel of fragmented identity which examines the ultimate failure of comparisons to beckett are pretty relevant i would say. as with beckett, 'the box man' confronts readers with a real rupture of traditional narrator/reader relationships, and delivers the narrative in such a dispersed manner that you are really left without a cohesive idea of what agency gave you the information you read. the real box man, the fake box man, the real doctor, the fake doctor...all of these are thrown out there for you to sort out. characters begin to refer to ideas or possible actions rather than tangible indentities. in the end, abe tells a story of the contemporary predicament of representation and the psychology of a society in which we increasing interact with representations of things rather than the things themselves. the box man is a man who, saturated with the mediated representations of radio and television, is unable to have normal human interactions with people, he can only look and never be looked at. 'the box man' is an excellent treatment of these very relevant contemporary cultural issues, a frustrating read, but an excellent novel.
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