cover image The Ark Sakura

The Ark Sakura

Kobo Abe. Knopf Publishing Group, $18.95 (333pp) ISBN 978-0-394-55836-3

Abe's first novel in eight yearsan allegorical fantasy at once Kafkaesque, funny and apocalpyticdazzles even when it may confuse. The principal character, nicknamed Mole, has converted a huge underground quarry into an ""ark'' capable of surviving the coming nuclear holocaust and is now in search of his ``crew.'' He falls victim, however, to the wiles of his first crew members, a con man-cum-insect dealer and his two shills, one of them a pretty young woman. In the surreal drama that ensues, the ark is invaded by a gang of youths and a sinister group of elderly people called the Broom Brigade, led by Mole's odious father, while Mole gets his leg trapped in the ark's central piece of equipment, a giant toilet powerful enough to flush almost anything, including chopped-up humans, out to sea. Abe (The Woman in the Dunes, The Box Man), generally considered Japan's leading novelist, is a literary magician with a very special bag of tricks. Among them is a deadpan matter-of-factness that gives his chilling vision of human destiny much of its impact. (April)