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The Sea and Poison

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On the first day of First Surgery's project, three prisoners were scheduled for operations. The aims of the vivisection experiment were described as follows: 1. Saline is to be injected into the blood stream. The quantitative limits of such a procedure before death occurs are to be ascertained. 2. Air is to be injected into the veins and the volume at which death occurs is t On the first day of First Surgery's project, three prisoners were scheduled for operations. The aims of the vivisection experiment were described as follows: 1. Saline is to be injected into the blood stream. The quantitative limits of such a procedure before death occurs are to be ascertained. 2. Air is to be injected into the veins and the volume at which death occurs is to be ascertained. 3. The limit to which the bronchial tubes may be cut before death occurs is to be ascertained. From the author of Silence, soon to be a major film by Martin Scorsese starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, The Sea and Poison is Shusaku Endo's most disquieting novel and a masterful study of individual and collective moral disintegration. Set in a Japanese hospital during the last days of the Second World War, the story centres on the medical staff who offer to assist in a series of vivisections, live experimental operations, on US prisoners of war.


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On the first day of First Surgery's project, three prisoners were scheduled for operations. The aims of the vivisection experiment were described as follows: 1. Saline is to be injected into the blood stream. The quantitative limits of such a procedure before death occurs are to be ascertained. 2. Air is to be injected into the veins and the volume at which death occurs is t On the first day of First Surgery's project, three prisoners were scheduled for operations. The aims of the vivisection experiment were described as follows: 1. Saline is to be injected into the blood stream. The quantitative limits of such a procedure before death occurs are to be ascertained. 2. Air is to be injected into the veins and the volume at which death occurs is to be ascertained. 3. The limit to which the bronchial tubes may be cut before death occurs is to be ascertained. From the author of Silence, soon to be a major film by Martin Scorsese starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, The Sea and Poison is Shusaku Endo's most disquieting novel and a masterful study of individual and collective moral disintegration. Set in a Japanese hospital during the last days of the Second World War, the story centres on the medical staff who offer to assist in a series of vivisections, live experimental operations, on US prisoners of war.

30 review for The Sea and Poison

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    Set largely in a Fukuoka hospital during World War II, this novel is concerned with lethal vivisections carried out on downed American airmen. It is told from the first-person point of view of one of the doctors and the third-person perspective of his colleagues who cut open, experiment on, and kill the crew members. The novel is based on a true incident. It was made into the 1986 movie Umi to dokuyaku, directed by Kei Kumai and starring Eiji Okuda and Ken Watanabe. A movie which to my knowledge Set largely in a Fukuoka hospital during World War II, this novel is concerned with lethal vivisections carried out on downed American airmen. It is told from the first-person point of view of one of the doctors and the third-person perspective of his colleagues who cut open, experiment on, and kill the crew members. The novel is based on a true incident. It was made into the 1986 movie Umi to dokuyaku, directed by Kei Kumai and starring Eiji Okuda and Ken Watanabe. A movie which to my knowledge has not been translated and released to the English-speaking world. I’d love to see it. The book seems an object lesson in how much may be omitted from a narrative without evicerating it. (Sorry.) The characterizations are quite thin yet they work. You might say the approach is minimalist. In his non-Christian novels, Endo always seems to do a lot with very little. The Christian novels (Silence and The Samurai) seem bloated by comparison. The Girl I Left Behind, Deep River, and The Sea and Poison are all quite honed with very little waste. This is one of Endo's earliest novels, though not his first. It seems a little choppy in execution but this might be the translation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darryl

    This stunning, disturbing and deeply moving novel about the actions of Japanese doctors in a hospital during World War II opens in postwar Japan, in a small town that has been battered and demoralized after the country's defeat. A ordinary man infected with pulmonary tuberculosis who has recently moved to town seeks out the local physician for care, and he meets Dr Suguro, a withdrawn and defeated man who provides him with the treatment he needs, but nothing more. The narrator later meets anothe This stunning, disturbing and deeply moving novel about the actions of Japanese doctors in a hospital during World War II opens in postwar Japan, in a small town that has been battered and demoralized after the country's defeat. A ordinary man infected with pulmonary tuberculosis who has recently moved to town seeks out the local physician for care, and he meets Dr Suguro, a withdrawn and defeated man who provides him with the treatment he needs, but nothing more. The narrator later meets another physician who trained at the same hospital in Fukuoka as Suguro did, and learns that Suguro was imprisoned for taking part in an experimental operation on a lightly injured American airman. The first person narration then shifts to third person accounts of Suguro, a medical intern at the time of the airman's vivisection, along with those of Toda, another intern who is more urbane and comes from a wealthy family, but lacks the moral scruples of his colleague, and a nurse who formerly worked at the hospital but has returned in disgrace after her husband has left her for another woman. The three, along with the power hungry and uncaring supervising physicians, care for patients afflicted with TB who are treated worse than animals, particularly those who are welfare cases and cannot afford to pay for their care. The doctors view these patients' lives as hopeless and unworthy, whose only value is to serve to advance medical science, even if it means they must die premature and pain filled deaths. After an unfortunate accident, Suguro and Toda are "invited" to participate in the operation on the downed airman. Toda readily agrees, knowing that his participation will advance his career. Suguro initially agrees, but experiences deep moral conflict once he learns of the nature and brutality of the operation. The nurse does not attend the surgery, but becomes aware of the nature of the operation and the effort by the doctors and head nurse to cover up both the operation on the soldier and the earlier accident. The Sea and Poison, the winner of the 1958 Akutagawa Prize which was later made into an award winning movie, is a powerful tale of man's inhumanity to man, and the role that societal and peer pressure play in causing decent human beings to commit immoral acts toward those in their care or under their power. Based on a real story, it served as one of the first novels that openly criticized acts committed by Japan in wartime against its citizens, enemies and prisoners of war, and brought to light some of the atrocities that the world would learn about in later years.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    The structure of many of Endo's novels may seem "unfinished", but I think that misses the spirit of his work. It is not about finishing in the western sense; it has more to do with the angst of internal struggle, and in that department, it has few equals. Sparse and precise, which most writers can't hope to manage. The structure of many of Endo's novels may seem "unfinished", but I think that misses the spirit of his work. It is not about finishing in the western sense; it has more to do with the angst of internal struggle, and in that department, it has few equals. Sparse and precise, which most writers can't hope to manage.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was my first encounter with Endo, and I came away a fan. Historically rooted, the story line itself would have been enough to hold my attention. But his ability to show the dichotomy of the tenets of Catholicism and traditional Japanese culture was masterful, subtle, and intriguing. A must-read for any fan of Japanese literature.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Difficult but rewarding read! Shusaku Endo's The Sea and Poison is a difficult book to write about for a number of reasons. I won't be giving anything away by telling you the story concerns the vivisection of two American POWs during WWII. Despite such a harrowing subject matter the telling of the story, although unpleasant at times, was not quite as graphic as I was anticipating. What makes it difficult is that this seemingly simple text, a short novel of only about 160 pages, is weighed down by Difficult but rewarding read! Shusaku Endo's The Sea and Poison is a difficult book to write about for a number of reasons. I won't be giving anything away by telling you the story concerns the vivisection of two American POWs during WWII. Despite such a harrowing subject matter the telling of the story, although unpleasant at times, was not quite as graphic as I was anticipating. What makes it difficult is that this seemingly simple text, a short novel of only about 160 pages, is weighed down by subtle meaning and a philosophical and ethical quandary at the heart of the novel. The quandary seems fairly cut and dry to me, but looking back on history--even not so distant history, I can only say the capacity for human cruelty seems large. We meet Doctor Suguro some time after the war, his promising career ruined, abandoned by his wife, and living in a small town an hour outside of Tokyo. He is still practicing medicine but his surgery has a down and out feel to it, seemingly closed and empty. One wonders why he chose such an out of the way location for his practice. A man recently arrived to the area must visit the doctor for treatment for a lung condition, but Suguro won't treat him without first seeing his chest x-ray and following normal protocol. Suguro exudes about him the same feeling of being uncared for--dirt under his nails, an office that is dusty and filled with an odor of general uncleanliness. But it's obvious that Suguro has great skill even if not a sympathetic bedside manner. "...it seemed that this man with the grey, bloated face had, somewhere or other, gained a considerable amount of medical skill. If he were so capable a doctor, there should have been no need for him to settle in a barren spot like this, so lacking in every attractive feature. Yet he had come. Why, I wondered." In Fukuoka, as a young intern in a TB hospital during the war, Suguro had been presented with an opportunity for the advancement of his career if he would take part in an experiment, which was presented to him as a way to further science. Suguro was only one of several doctors and nurses that would take part in the vivisection of American POWs who were already slated to be executed. So it becomes a question of conscience and personal responsibility. They are going to die in any case, why not take the opportunity to make discoveries that will help sick patients in the future? What is the harm? That is what the others tell Suguro. The bulk of the novel is made up of the stories of three central participants who are to take part in the vivisection. Just what in their histories enable them to do such a thing with so little thought and feeling? What is their flaw? And what are the repercussions? Endo doesn't really make judgements, if so they are subtle. Rather he presents to the reader this situation and the circumstances under which the doctors and nurses are working and the choices they make. The residents of the town of Fukuoka are the victims of almost daily bombardments. Those in the hospital, where there is now something of a military presence, exist in dire conditions. No sooner does one TB patient die than another is brought in to take his bed. The survival rate is low, and despite the efforts of a few who are dedicated, particularly of Suguro, it seems little can be done. Many of the doctors seem more interested in jockeying for position, worried about their futures, than in the real care of the sick. It's against this bleak background that the military offers the POWs to the hospital staff for a number of different experiments. The fact that the experiments are to be done more or less on the sly and with the knowledge of only a few is telling. Each character has their own inner conflicts--Suguro has seen the patients he has tried to help die ignominiously, Toda has found that he can get away with almost anything without getting caught (why feel guilty if no one else minds), and nurse Ueda has been mistreated and everything she wanted and wished for taken away from her. Although each doctor and nurse is given the choice of participating or not there is still the subtle pressure from those around them that they must do so. One can, of course say no, but what will the others think. Endo asks far more questions than he gives answers as you can see. Endo raises many issues--the question of conscience and guilt, of culpability (does being present but not participating still taint one?), of responsibility and of what is ethical and moral in science--well, at least these are things that crossed my mind as I was reading. This is a thoughtful book that requires careful attention. I admit I half read it with an eye closed for fear of what I might find before me, so my somewhat rambling post is not doing the book justice. It is an uncomfortable read but a worthy one for the questions he asks and makes his reader consider. Endo won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize when it was published in 1958. It took many years before it was finally translated into English by Michael Gallagher.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Powerful short novel that deals with the life of a Japanes physician poisoned by the experience, as an intern, of bearing witness to medical experiments on American POW's, in Japan during WW11. Imposition of mind numbing military totalitarianism on a people produces a loss of conscience. The evolution of conscience in a social form requires freedom of choice. In the short term, as described by Terrence Des Pres, conscience does not die even under extreme adversity. However, a system that raises Powerful short novel that deals with the life of a Japanes physician poisoned by the experience, as an intern, of bearing witness to medical experiments on American POW's, in Japan during WW11. Imposition of mind numbing military totalitarianism on a people produces a loss of conscience. The evolution of conscience in a social form requires freedom of choice. In the short term, as described by Terrence Des Pres, conscience does not die even under extreme adversity. However, a system that raises children to obey an irrational set of dictates and imposes them with brutality will destroy conscience as witnessed by Tomba in this novel.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pragya

    3.5 stars

  8. 4 out of 5

    JG

    [May write a proper review later. This is one of my favourite books. It's disquieting, gorgeously written in parts, clunky in others ... yet I cannot easily explain why I admire this book so much. It really strikes a place inside of me that so few books manage to do.] [May write a proper review later. This is one of my favourite books. It's disquieting, gorgeously written in parts, clunky in others ... yet I cannot easily explain why I admire this book so much. It really strikes a place inside of me that so few books manage to do.]

  9. 5 out of 5

    Parrish Lantern

    The Sea & poison by Shusako Endo The book starts as a prologue, with the visit to a “ shabbily constructed house, more like a shed than a Dr’s surgery” by an unnamed man seeking a Doctor for a routine injection. He meets Dr Suguro, whose faultless technique, but cold distant attitude, piques his curiosity. A while later, whilst at a family wedding, he meets another doctor who is a fellow guest, they get chatting & he finds out that the other doctor knew Suguro & through his tale we learn about Dr The Sea & poison by Shusako Endo The book starts as a prologue, with the visit to a “ shabbily constructed house, more like a shed than a Dr’s surgery” by an unnamed man seeking a Doctor for a routine injection. He meets Dr Suguro, whose faultless technique, but cold distant attitude, piques his curiosity. A while later, whilst at a family wedding, he meets another doctor who is a fellow guest, they get chatting & he finds out that the other doctor knew Suguro & through his tale we learn about Dr Suguro’s past. During the 2nd world war, Suguro worked as an intern at Fukuoka medical school & whilst there became involved with medical experiments on some American prisoners of war, these included live vivisection & injecting air into their veins to find out how quick they’ll die. Although, when it came down to it, Suguro couldn’t do it, he couldn’t stop it either, he froze. “ I didn’t do anything at all; Suguro made an effort to shut out the voice. I didn’t do anything at all; But this plea seemed to reverberate within him, churning itself into a whirlpool devoid of meaning” It’s this inability to act against his superiors that overrides everything. This leads to a lack of resolution that paralyzes his ability to act according to his ideal of what a doctor is. Creating the humiliation that will dictate his future. There is another character in the book called Toda, who appears to have none of the qualms of Suguro. He is guided purely by his ambition, to him the patients are merely another instrument to assist him on his chosen path. Toda discusses his lack of concern & chides Suguro for his compassion, even when it comes to killing the prisoners Toda is only concerned with how he would be perceived by his peers. “After doing this will my heart trouble me with recriminations? will I shudder fearfully at having become a murderer? killing a living human being. Having this most fearful of deeds, will i suffer my whole life thru? “ I looked up, both Dr Shibata & Dr Asia had smiles on their lips, these men were after all no different from me. Even when the day of judgement comes, they’ll fear only the punishment of the world, of society” So what is a moral dilemma for Suguro, even if it’s one that through his submission he cannot act upon, causes Toda a momentary concern of how society would view his actions. It’s this apparent contradiction, on the one hand almost total subservience & on the other an ambition that has no brake, that seems to stunt the growth of any moral or ethical perspective from both Suguro & Toda. In the end, although both reacted differently to the situation they were in, the result was the same. Postscript This book was written in the late 1950’s & was set in the 2nd world war. Yet having recently finished Haruki Murakami’s – Underground ( Tokyo gas attack & the Japanese psyche) pub’ 1997, i was constantly amazed by how similar they were when referring to the society they were set in ( all though they are separated by about 50 years). There was this constant sense of isolation & alienation of the individual & an obedience to authority, regardless of whether it was detrimental to the person involved. What also struck me about both books, was that no one had any sense of personal responsibility. With The Sea & Poison, the reasoning was there was nothing I could do, it was the medical authority, the military or the war etc. With a few name changes (the Aum, work ethos) this could have been Murakami’s Underground. In fact, whilst researching how a massacre of Japanese troops led to slaughter by their superiors during an invasion of Mongolia (1939), Murakami writes “ I was struck by the fact that the closed, responsibility – evading ways of Japanese society were really not any different from the Imperial Japanese army operated at that time”

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pascale

    A spine-chilling novel about the vivisection of an American POW in a Japanese hospital during WWII. One great strength of this book is its construction. Endo starts by showing us one of the main protagonists, Doctor Suguro, through the eyes of a nameless tuberculosis patient who is surprised to find such a capable but obviously depressed practitioner in the backwater where he has just moved. Struck by the doctor's regional accent, the narrator then makes use of a trip to Fukuoka to research Sugu A spine-chilling novel about the vivisection of an American POW in a Japanese hospital during WWII. One great strength of this book is its construction. Endo starts by showing us one of the main protagonists, Doctor Suguro, through the eyes of a nameless tuberculosis patient who is surprised to find such a capable but obviously depressed practitioner in the backwater where he has just moved. Struck by the doctor's regional accent, the narrator then makes use of a trip to Fukuoka to research Suguro's past. The story then cuts to what happened at the Fukuoka hospital during the war. Due to the abrupt death of the Dean of the Medical School, fierce competition flared up between 2 factions for his succession. Suguro was part of the team of Doctor Hashimoto (aka the Old Man), an aging surgeon married to a German woman named Hilda. On the other side was the team of Doctor Kando. In order not to let the coveted post go to Kando, Hashimoto decides to hurry through an operation on a member of the dead dean's family. However, the routine surgery goes awry and the young woman dies in the operating theatre. Although the team covers for Hashimoto and puts about the story that the patient died later of unforeseeable complications, his reputation is virtually ruined. Partly as a consequence of this debacle, Hashimoto decides to undertake 3 operations of "scientific value" on POW. The justification for this blatant violation of the rights of prisoners is that these procedures will yield important information on how to treat tubercular patients in war time. Of course this is only a game of oneupmanship between Hashimoto and Kando. We then get 2 first-person statements by members of Hashimoto's squad, Nurse Ueda and intern Toda. Ueda is an embittered woman who not only lost her first fetus, but also her matrix. Repudiated by her worthless husband, she is easily persuaded by cynical Doctor Asai to assist in the vivisection, simply because it makes her feel good to know something about Hashimoto that his wife Hilda won't be told. The second statement, to me, is the core of the book, and an unforgettable description of a man without a conscience. From an early age, Toda chose to make his way in the world by playing the part of the good boy, when he was anything but. Various childhood anecdotes show him behaving badly without ever being found out, and realizing that as long as he wasn't punished for his misdeeds, he really couldn't care less. It stands to reason that such a man wouldn't blink when asked to assist in a vivisection. All Toda ever feels about his heinous actions is "a bit strange". What makes him sick is to think that the men who ask him to cut open the POW must be exactly like him under their veneer of sophistication. The realization that part of mankind is devoid of a conscience is a scary prospect. The book then details the extraction of the lungs of an unsuspecting POW, who of course dies. The process is attended and even filmed by soldiers who've made a bet that they'll cook and eat the man's liver. Some of these men experience an erection while watching the operation. The page where Toda delivers the still warm organ to the officers made my hair raise on end. Endo chooses to finish the book with Suguro, who neither had the strength to refuse the assignment nor to play his part in it, therefore remaining a emotional cripple for ever after. Everything about this book is compelling, but especially the portrait of Toda, the man who despairs of mankind because he has found out that he has no conscience, and that his predicament is not unique.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Raimu

    In my view, reading The sea and poison is the most delightful experience since it shows the Japanese spirit during the WWⅡ. First of all, this story is based on a non-fiction story. In 1945, there was a case of American military’s vivisection in Kyushu University which was occurred instead of execution. This book refers to those frightful cases. Although this story is fiction, it will shows us reality, so we can consider about those living times in WWⅡ, Japan. It is very interesting the way how t In my view, reading The sea and poison is the most delightful experience since it shows the Japanese spirit during the WWⅡ. First of all, this story is based on a non-fiction story. In 1945, there was a case of American military’s vivisection in Kyushu University which was occurred instead of execution. This book refers to those frightful cases. Although this story is fiction, it will shows us reality, so we can consider about those living times in WWⅡ, Japan. It is very interesting the way how they look the American military. Secondly, The sea and poison reproduces Japanese characters faithfully. The main character, Katsuro, has a typical personality of Japanese. He is shy, can't excuse from his boss's command and always is swayed by the opinions of others. I think foreigners can understand those Japanese peculiar thoughts more easily from this book. The most obvious reason for recommending this book is the author, Shusaku Endo's writing style. This story is written like a character's reminisces and describes each character's feelings with many details; fear, sense of guilt, impatience and despair. We, the readers will sympathize with their thoughts very easily. Also, this story will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although this book needs much time to read and some people might think too much trouble to read it, I think it is worth reading because this story will make us reconsider “ The crime against humanity ”. It will be a valuable experience for you. You have my word. Therefore, I highly recommend you to read Shusaku Endo's The sea and poison.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Diego Munoz

    Like all Endo novels it is a very easy read. This book deals with the morality of killing captured POWs for the sake of advancing medical techniques and knowledge. Very little time is dedicated to the surgeries, this book deals mostly with telling the story of the main characters as they deal with this large moral issue. A lot of Japanese literature focuses on outsiders, and disenfranchised. Endo seems to be from a different league of writers. Although he is Japanese, his books don't read like ty Like all Endo novels it is a very easy read. This book deals with the morality of killing captured POWs for the sake of advancing medical techniques and knowledge. Very little time is dedicated to the surgeries, this book deals mostly with telling the story of the main characters as they deal with this large moral issue. A lot of Japanese literature focuses on outsiders, and disenfranchised. Endo seems to be from a different league of writers. Although he is Japanese, his books don't read like typical Japanese novels. I hope that makes some sense to people who read a lot of Japanese authors..

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Deals with several characters who were, in one capacity or another, party to the vivisection of an American prisoner of war. The book discusses what brought them to that place and how they rationalized or dealt with their involvement in the deed. Although the vivisection is central to the story, very little of the book actually deals with that event; it's not a "grisly" novel in that sense. It's more a story about morality and how people come to and then cope with the decisions they make. Deals with several characters who were, in one capacity or another, party to the vivisection of an American prisoner of war. The book discusses what brought them to that place and how they rationalized or dealt with their involvement in the deed. Although the vivisection is central to the story, very little of the book actually deals with that event; it's not a "grisly" novel in that sense. It's more a story about morality and how people come to and then cope with the decisions they make.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Hübner

    http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=235 On 5 May, 1945, during the last months of WWII - the war in Europe was just coming to an end - an American B-29 airplane went down over Fukuoka, Japan. The highest ranking surviving soldier was brought to Tokyo for further interrogation. The other eight survivors were brought to the Department of Anatomy of the University of Fukuoka. There they were subjected to medical “experiments” that were carried out without anesthetics by Unit 731 under its commander Gene http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=235 On 5 May, 1945, during the last months of WWII - the war in Europe was just coming to an end - an American B-29 airplane went down over Fukuoka, Japan. The highest ranking surviving soldier was brought to Tokyo for further interrogation. The other eight survivors were brought to the Department of Anatomy of the University of Fukuoka. There they were subjected to medical “experiments” that were carried out without anesthetics by Unit 731 under its commander General Shiro Ishii and with the support of several doctors and nurses from Fukuoka Hospital. The so-called “experiments” for which Unit 731 was notorious were so gruesome that they can be only compared with that of Dr. Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz. A biography of Ishii mentions an example of the “scientific” experiments of Unit 731: “To determine the treatment of frostbite, prisoners were taken outside in freezing weather and left with exposed arms, periodically drenched with water until frozen solid. The arm was later amputated; the doctor would repeat the process on the victim's upper arm to the shoulder. After both arms were gone, the doctors moved on to the legs until only a head and torso remained. The victim was then used for plague and pathogens experiments.” (Byrd, Gregory Dean: General Ishii Shiro) In the case of the American soldiers, the vivisections meant that inner organs were consecutively extracted in order to see how long the soldiers would survive. It was murder with a so-called “scientific” alibi and under the cruelest conditions you can possibly imagine (no use of anesthetics, as already mentioned!). All prisoners died after unimaginable suffering. Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo was one of the first authors to shed a light on Japan’s moral guilt for the war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers, but also by respectable medical doctors, nurses and scientists. His novel The Sea and Poison is based on the Fukuoka crime. The narrator of the novel that is set in Japan in the 1950s, is a man with a lung disease (just like Endo himself who suffered from tuberculosis and who had a part of his lung removed). He is treated successfully by a Dr. Suguro, an unfriendly and uncommunicative man with a swollen face that looks somehow creepy. But he is obviously a good professional in his field. The narrator investigates out of curiosity about Dr. Suguro and meets someone who knows the past of this strange person. Dr. Suguro was during the war part of the team of doctors and nurses that carried out the vivisections in Fukuoka. During that time Suguro was a young practitioner at a hospital. One of the first surgeries after he starts his duties in Fukuoka Hospital and in which he participates, is the lung operation of an old woman, a welfare patient. The operation is not necessary from a medical point of view and it will end with the death of the woman, but since she is “only” a welfare patient and will probably die anyway from her disease, the responsible doctor is not hesitating to use her (without her knowledge or even consent) for this human experiment in the name of a very doubtful "scientific progress", Suguro finally gives in to participate in this surgery which is supposed to bring at least some more scientific results and might help to find a better treatment for similar cases in the future. Suguro is shocked and devastated by what he sees and he shows compassion to the woman before the surgery. Sometimes he is giving her extra food when nobody watches. But he, the young practitioner doesn’t stand up to the driving force behind this completely useless and lethal surgery: Dr. Toda, the main surgeon, wants to make a career for himself and for this he needs to have under all circumstances a big number of surgeries performed. That in many cases these surgeries will end necessarily with the death of the patient, is not a matter of concern to Dr. Toda. Welfare patients seem to be not fully human to him, interesting only as human "material" and as long as it is in the name of “science” (i.e. his personal ambition), anything is in the right order for him. Toda is in many ways the complete opposite of Suguro. He is talkative, over-ambitious, and he enjoys exercising power, a fact that results also in a constant bickering directed at Suguro, who has moral scruples and choose this profession obviously out of the real wish to help people, not to make a career at all costs. But Suguro is weak and he collapses morally. Japan, like Germany, was not a society where subordinates were used to doubt or even to stand up to their superiors or any higher authority when receiving orders that were ethically doubtful or inhumane. A minor figure but nevertheless an important character in the book is the nurse Ueda with a rather unhappy personal history. She is more passive and choose this profession neither out of enthusiasm nor out of the wish to make a career. But her unhappy private life and frustrated pre-disposition together with her experience in Manchuria have taught her to follow orders and how to deal with “inferior” people and races. She is participating in the operation without enthusiasm but also without sign or even thought of rebellion against this unnecessary and lethal surgery. When the surviving American soldiers are brought to the hospital, it is again Toda who takes the initiative. The post of the deacon of the faculty is vacant and the spectacular vivisections will be the perfect opportunity for him to bring himself in position for this important job. None of the doctors and nurses who participate in the vivisections because Toda puts some pressure on them rejects this request and so these “scientifically” disguised crimes take place under the hands of doctors whose profession it should be to protect and save lives. I don’t think that Endo wanted to write a kind of documentary novel that was meant to expose the terrible crimes of a part of the Japanese doctors and medical staff during WWII, and I also don’t think that Endo should be blamed for not writing in very much detail about the sufferings of the American soldiers, or for changing some details in his novels compared to the reality, such as the use of anesthetics (which were not used during the real vivisections of the soldiers). It’s a novel after all and any author is entitled to change or adapt certain details when it suits him – otherwise he should write a report, not a novel. We can assume that Endo’s readers in Japan were (just like the author himself) aware of the details of this case, which were reported in detail by all Japanese newspapers during the trial of 1948 against some doctors and medical staff. We can only guess why he introduced the use of anesthetics contrary to the real story. It might be simply for the pragmatic reason not to shock the readers more than necessary, it might be a concession to the publisher, it might be even considered as an act of compassion toward the victims of this crime. And that he doesn’t describe the graphic details of the vivisections has also to be seen in the framework of the artistic tradition of Japan. It is a constitutional moment of many Japanese novels and movies to make extensive use of the ellipsis as a narrative device (think of Kurosawa’s or Ozu’s movies). It’s more important to see that there are doctors and nurses that have a profession that is aiming to heal people – and they come together to commit a number of sadistic murders. As for the sufferings of the victims, it is left to the readers’ imagination. No need to describe something that would have more similarity with a splatter movie than with the situation in any normal hospital in the world. It has to be mentioned that Endo was a catholic author. He lived several years in France and was familiar with the work of authors like Bernanos or Mauriac. Additionally he was suffering from tuberculosis and had to undergo surgery to remove one of his lobes. So we can suggest that he had a lot of his own experiences with doctors and hospitals flow into this novel, as well as his views on the freedom of will and personal ethical responsibility for one's actions. In my opinion, the three main characters in the book are based on typical representatives for different approaches of people working in hospitals or in the medical profession in general. There are the ones that choose this profession out of the genuine wish to help other people and to render a valuable service to mankind (like Suguro). For others (like Ueda) it is just a profession like any other. And for a number of people (like Dr. Toda) it is an instrument to display power, a vehicle for their personal ambition, a place where they can use any means that suits the only aim that matters: to rise in the hierarchy, to gain more recognition, prestige, money, and power for themselves. The main question for Endo seems to be: where are the ethical limits for the work of a doctor or medical professional? The surgery that the welfare patient has to suffer is completely useless, will not help her, cure her disease or make her life more comfortable. In the contrary it will kill her. But since she is a welfare patient, she seems to be the suitable ‘material’ to gain at least some (very doubtful) additional knowledge that might help to cure similar diseases in the future more efficiently. (At least this is the alibi that the doctors make up for themselves.) It is clear that already this case shows a complete lack of humanity from the side of the doctors and is against all ethical principles of medicine. And it is also obvious that doctors or nurses that are already so morally compromised to perform such surgeries will not protest against any order to undertake vivisections on prisoners that have absolutely no medical justification and are simply a cruel form of murder. For me this is clearly a book about the importance to act according to ethical principles under all conditions. Just as the way to Auschwitz started when people were not protesting against the boycott of the shop of their Jewish neighbor, the way to the ‘medical’ experiments of a Dr. Dr. Mengele started when people were not protesting against the declaration of certain people as being ‘lebensunwert’ (not worth living). Considering today’s discussions about reproduction medicine or euthanasia in many countries, or the participation of medics in the torturing of prisoners in Guantanamo or elsewhere, the question of individual ethical responsibility of doctors is as acute as ever. Therefore Endo’s disturbing but important novel, as depressing as the story is, has lost nothing of its urgency and strength. Postscriptum: The real doctors and nurses that participated in the Fukuoka vivisections were sentenced to death or very long prison sentences in 1948. General MacArthur, the military commander of Japan commuted all death sentences and reduced the prison sentences considerably. In 1958 all Fukuoka killers were free again. Most of them held later high positions in medicine, science, and the pharmaceutical industry in Japan. Emperor Hirohito, who created Unit 731 and who was fully aware of the biological warfare and human experiments and who encouraged the deeds of this Unit, never saw a court. General Ishii - still considered a hero by many Japanese - received immunity for his crimes against delivering the results of his "scientific research" to the Americans(!). Results of the biological human experiments of Unit 731 were used in the US and the Soviet Union for their respective military Biological Warfare programmes. The Japanese Supreme Court confirmed in 2007 that victims of Unit 731 or their family members are not entitled to any financial compensation.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    If you've ever read Endo Shusaku's most famous novel, "Silence," then you are already familiar with his ability to draw out powerful emotions from historical events, to make you feel the impact of human action in a way that is timeless. "The Sea and Poison" is a much shorter book, also based on true events, in this case from the 20th century. As much as I love "Silence," this may replace it as my favorite Endo novel. Certain books move you in a way that requires you to periodically put them down If you've ever read Endo Shusaku's most famous novel, "Silence," then you are already familiar with his ability to draw out powerful emotions from historical events, to make you feel the impact of human action in a way that is timeless. "The Sea and Poison" is a much shorter book, also based on true events, in this case from the 20th century. As much as I love "Silence," this may replace it as my favorite Endo novel. Certain books move you in a way that requires you to periodically put them down. Set mostly during WWII-era Japan, the narrative switches between various characters involved in the vivisection of an American POW at a hospital, ostensibly for the purpose of medical research. This is a reference to a series of now infamous war crimes committed during those years, some of which were performed by the Imperial Army's Unit 731. The story is not strictly accurate in historical terms; Unit 731 was based in China, while the events of "Sea and Poison" take place in a civilian hospital in southern Japan. Endo wasn't trying to write "historical fiction" however. This is a story about what Arendt called "the banality of evil," and how easy it is for ordinary people to get drawn into events they would otherwise reject as cruel or evil. It can be easy for a story about such subjects to slip into a mere morality tale, or an excuse to demonize people now long dead. This is a true misfortune when it occurs, because it defeats the point of examining events like the Holocaust--the participants become safely "othered," monsters who we have nothing in common with, and who we are in no danger of ever imitating. Endo does not allow the reader to reach the comfort of denunciations and judgments: "There is something I would like to ask you. Aren't you too, deep down, unmoved by the sufferings and death of others? Aren't we brothers under the skin perhaps? Haven't you, too, lived your life up to now without excessive self-recrimination and shame? And then someday doesn't there stir in you, too, the thought that you're a bit strange?" In this passage one of the doctors, Toda, addresses us directly in what appears to be some kind of diary or memoir. Leading up to this, he recounts various incidents throughout his life, ranging from elementary school up to the present, all of which show the many stages by which a person becomes inured to compassion. He flatly describes the time he watched a fellow student, a young boy, get beaten and humiliated by some bullies. But because he was jealous of the boy for other reasons, he allowed it to continue. Later, bothered by his apparent lack of conscience, he spontaneously gives away a prized pen to a friend, and forbids him to tell anyone of his generosity. Such selfless giving is at the heart of Christian ethics, and people of all religious and cultural backgrounds are quick to praise behavior of this kind, particularly in children. But the feeling of altruistic good-will never arises: "My heart was blank and empty. There was not the least trace of exultancy. The joy and satisfaction which come from doing a good deed--not the faintest hint of anything like this welled up in my heart." He continues to do what is expected of him by various authority figures, all of whom are fooled into thinking he is a model citizen. Toda grows up learning that much of society is a game in which people tell others to be polite, kind, or civil, without any real substance behind such ideas. Another character, Suguro, is probably the most sympathetic character. Once in the operation room, he is unable to actually take part in the murder of the POW, paralyzed by fear and nausea. But even here the reader cannot squirm into a consoling sense of identification. Later, after the deed is done, he realizes the import of what has passed and his role in it: "'I didn't do anything at all.' Suguro made an effort to shut out the voice. 'I didn't do anything at all.' But this plea seemed to reverberate within him, churning itself into a whirlpool devoid of meaning. 'That's it! You've hit it there! You didn't do anything at all. The time the old lady died, this time too--you didn't do anything at all. You're always there. You're always there--not doing anything at all!'" Not doing anything IS to do something. Evil men triumph when good men do nothing, but Suguro realizes that he is not a good man, or even an evil man. He is a coward. Like Toda, his past formed his present, a past in which flickers of the cruelty and indifference of that operating room showed themselves like a warning. The old woman he refers to was another patient in his hospital, a welfare case slowly dying of tuberculosis. Without family and literally wasting away, she is the wretched of the earth. Since she can't pay for her treatments and is expected to die anyway, she is viewed contemptuously by the other doctors and nurses, a burden. It doesn't help that she has an irritating personality. Suguro clings to her at first as an outlet for some mercy and kindness, taking special care to check on her and proposing surgery even though it probably won't save her. He is mocked by his more realistic and jaded colleagues, and we begin to think well of Suguro. But then one night he notices that a bit of medicinal glucose he left for her is untouched on her nightstand--an affront considering that she was not supposed to have it due to rationing. She was supposed to hide it, for later trade or barter. Later, she misses a check-up. Annoyed, Suguro marches to her room to demand an explanation, only to find her gnawing in hunger at the lump of medicine he left for her. His annoyance becomes full-blown rage as he gazes upon her miserable, diseased face, caught in this pathetic tableau, and he strikes her. The line between mercy and cruelty, love and hatred, pity and contempt, is a thin one. One by one Endo shows us how the various characters are caught up in events that move them toward the finality of murder. A nurse, abused and abandoned by her husband. The chief surgeon who accidentally kills a different patient, the wife of an influential patron, dashing his hopes for promotion, making him desperate to regain his preeminence. The army officers who constantly remind everyone involved that the prisoner would have been executed anyway, so who cares if he is vivisected. Isn't it better this way, since at least his death will contribute something to medical science? And looming over everything, the death and destruction of War. Why care about anything when your city is getting bombed and each day might be your last? It's tempting to interpret such background elements as an attempt to excuse or dilute the enormity of atrocity. Why is Endo trying to make us sympathize with murderers and cowards? When you learn that a monster had a childhood, or dreams, or a past, the feeling this generates is incompatible with the pit of disgust and revulsion you feel in your stomach when you contemplate their crimes. Mixed together, you might feel confused and angry, not only at the world, but at yourself. I believe this reaction is part of what Endo intended to create. Not so you would end up rationalizing evil, or rolling into bland relativism, but to bring you back to the only thing you can control--yourself. In "Silence" one of the characters remarks that true sin is not stealing or lying. It is to cause pain and suffering to an individual, and not care. Reduce someone to a monster, or a tool, or some other simplicity, and you diminish yourself. All of the characters in "Sea and Poison" do these things to various people in their lives. The POW is the enemy, he must be killed anyway, so why not make him useful? The old woman will die soon, so why waste medicine or time on her? Any mercy you do show her is undeserved, so any lack of gratitude of her part is an insult. The cool logic of reality can make anything look better, at least superficially. In "Silence" there is the character of Kichijiro, the miserable, conniving convert who betrays Father Rodrigues like a modern Judas. His cowardice is revolting, and like Suguro toward the old woman, Rodrigues despises him in spite of all his efforts to love him unconditionally. But if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? It is easy to hate Kichijiro, the old woman, the enemy. It is hard to love them. There is a gap between what such a verse says, and what we feel. In that gap is the lived reality of countless people, all trying to do what is right, and failing. Both "Silence" and "Sea and Poison" show us that inevitable failure, as well as the many choices we can make to succeed. Suguro had the opportunity to take a stand, a moment when he could have refused to take part, but did not. When he realized his mistake, it was too late: "Still...some day we're going to have to answer for it," said Suguro, leaning close suddenly and whispering. "That's for sure. It's certain that we're going to have to answer for it."

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    In the final year of WW2, eight American airmen captured from a downed B29 underwent vivisections at Kyushu University, Fukuoka. The purpose of the experiments was to see how much blood a man could lose and still live, what volume of blood could be replaced by salt water, and how much lung tissue could be removed from a man without him dying. None of the men survived and those involved who didn't kill themselves were punished for war crimes. We are shown little of the actual vivisections in this In the final year of WW2, eight American airmen captured from a downed B29 underwent vivisections at Kyushu University, Fukuoka. The purpose of the experiments was to see how much blood a man could lose and still live, what volume of blood could be replaced by salt water, and how much lung tissue could be removed from a man without him dying. None of the men survived and those involved who didn't kill themselves were punished for war crimes. We are shown little of the actual vivisections in this novel. Endo is not concerned with the grotesque but with motivation and moral considerations. A prologue is told from the first-person perspective of a nondescript character who, in a post-war Tokyo suburb, goes to a doctor for TB treatment. Dr Suguro is detached, possibly emotionally crippled. His family have apparently left him. He lives in squalor. His new patient discovers he was involved in the Fukuoka vivisections, and on an unrelated trip there to a wedding, his interest aroused, he visits the site of the events. At that point the narrative jumps back in time to events at the hospital leading up to the vivisections, told in the third person. Suguro, here an intern, is the main character. We now see him before, we can speculate, the psychological impact of his participation in the vivisections. The incessant firebombing of Fukuoka is a vivid backdrop to this section. Then, just before the vivisections are to begin, there are what seem to be confessions (perhaps at the trial), told in the first person, by two minor figures involved, a nurse and another intern, Toda, who were supporting characters in the previous section. The confessions don't cover the time of the vivisections but are select fragments of autobiography leading up to that time. The question of motivation seems to be the focus here. These characters' back stories are not seen as justifying their actions - of passive participation rather than instigation - but to put them into some kind of motivational context, so we can understand where they were coming from. Finally, we are shown the first of the vivisections, and some of the thoughts and feelings of the characters we've been introduced to. Near the close it is the words of the intern, Toda, that linger and also which summarize: "You and I happened to be here in this particular hospital in this particular era, and so we took part in a vivisection performed on a prisoner. If those people who are going to judge is had been put in the same situation, would they have done anything different?" The novel is about the question, not the answer. In the novel's opening pages we've already seen some citizens, who have killed and raped in the war, but now they're just regular family men with regular jobs, who regularly take a dip in the neighborhood onsen. Of the moral culpability of those who passively participate in acts they know are wrong, Endo makes no judgement: that's for us to decide, if we wish to.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tabitha

    Gave me chills. Not the good kind. It took a long time, but I finally finished reading The Sea and Poison by Endo Shusaku. It’s not because it’s a long book, or anything like that - it’s more like a novella than a novel, only 167 pages - but I found that when I put it down in between bouts of reading it became harder and harder to pick it up again. So it stared at me from my bedside for a few months, waiting, until I finally decided that I had to finish this book once and for all and then plowed t Gave me chills. Not the good kind. It took a long time, but I finally finished reading The Sea and Poison by Endo Shusaku. It’s not because it’s a long book, or anything like that - it’s more like a novella than a novel, only 167 pages - but I found that when I put it down in between bouts of reading it became harder and harder to pick it up again. So it stared at me from my bedside for a few months, waiting, until I finally decided that I had to finish this book once and for all and then plowed through the rest in two sittings. The story takes place just prior to Japan’s defeat in WWII, and tells the story of how an American prisoner was vivisected at Fukuoka Medical School, in what was, horribly enough, hardly an isolated incident at the time. The story is told from a total of four points of view. There is the unnamed man in the prologue, possibly intended to represent the author, who finds out that his doctor was convicted for human experimentation at Fukuoka. In flashbacks, there is the doctor, Suguro, an intern at the time; Toda, another intern; and Ueda Nobu, a nurse. All of them, for various reasons, find themselves participating in the murder of an American airman. The Sea and Poison is a horror story, and it reads like one. The setting is bleak, the conclusion inevitable. I really appreciated that Endo did not portray any of his characters as deluded into thinking that the medical data they would obtain from the vivisection would justify the atrocity of it, and so turn the story into an aesop. He is more concerned with exploring the question of why people participate in things that they know are inexcusably evil. This is Endo being Endo, so everything is symbolic of just about everything else. Surprisingly enough for Endo, Jesus does not make an appearance, as far as I could tell. I don’t know if this is idiosyncratic to Endo or to skilled Japanese writers in general, but there’s a lot of repetitive descriptions and imagery which, in its obviousness, is hardly amateur. That said, it’s a shame that more people don’t try to translate Endo (or just about any other Asian authors), because this is definitely a translation that should be improved upon. Japanese as a literary language doesn’t fit comfortably into a Western style without major adjustments, and I don’t think the translator felt comfortable making them, hence a good deal of awkwardness. It could have been much worse, though, I’m not complaining too much. Definitely recommended, and for many more reasons besides the ones I’ve mentioned.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tasneemali

    Was the first ever Japanese novel to read .. I mean translated into Arabic but it gave me some images to relate to Japanese culture . And I realized that my literary experience - which is at its starting point :/- lacks Japanese and also Indian work of fiction . So I better get into it and start reading more . Those cultures are rich in literature , and I love to seek and explore the art of literature all around the world ! Gabriel Garcia Marquez himself was a big fan of Japanese novelists and sai Was the first ever Japanese novel to read .. I mean translated into Arabic but it gave me some images to relate to Japanese culture . And I realized that my literary experience - which is at its starting point :/- lacks Japanese and also Indian work of fiction . So I better get into it and start reading more . Those cultures are rich in literature , and I love to seek and explore the art of literature all around the world ! Gabriel Garcia Marquez himself was a big fan of Japanese novelists and said that they were crazy just like him .so he felt like a Japanese writer himself . Well Shusaku the writer of this novel has this eccentric mix of being a Japanese and a being a man of faith who believes in god , a Catholic man. So many critics noticed the preachy tone in his writings and the love of God shown in his novels , they thought it is odd and captivating at the same time .

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ben Smitthimedhin

    This is probably my least favorite Endo novel so far, which makes sense since it is his first full novel. The narrative shifts from one perspective to the next, leaving little room for me to understand and connect with the characters. The novel itself deals with a medical team who performs vivisections on WWII prisoners in Japan, and the narrator shifts from each person in the medical team to the next. The novel's theme deals with the ethical responsibility of each person in wartime and mankind' This is probably my least favorite Endo novel so far, which makes sense since it is his first full novel. The narrative shifts from one perspective to the next, leaving little room for me to understand and connect with the characters. The novel itself deals with a medical team who performs vivisections on WWII prisoners in Japan, and the narrator shifts from each person in the medical team to the next. The novel's theme deals with the ethical responsibility of each person in wartime and mankind's attempt to reason away its sinfulness. Interestingly, The Sea and Poison won the Akutagawa prize, so it might just be Gallagher's translation that created a bit of a distance for me and the characters. Guess I'll have to learn Japanese or something to find out.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    somewhat surprised to find something so intensely critical of the crazy doctor experiments japanese did in ww2 to get published within a decadeish of the events but form of the novel in general wasnt realy doing much for me. prologue is a bit of a wash and a lot of the other flashbacks are just hazy indifferences to some seriously fucke dup dudes vivisecting live bodies and eating american livers. i got a bad sunburn trying to finish this book and avoid putting on suntan lotion at the beach but somewhat surprised to find something so intensely critical of the crazy doctor experiments japanese did in ww2 to get published within a decadeish of the events but form of the novel in general wasnt realy doing much for me. prologue is a bit of a wash and a lot of the other flashbacks are just hazy indifferences to some seriously fucke dup dudes vivisecting live bodies and eating american livers. i got a bad sunburn trying to finish this book and avoid putting on suntan lotion at the beach but i do not hold it against shusaku endo

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachell

    A disturbing novel about ordinary people's capacity for evil. Interesting insights into Japanese society's relationship with the West, modernity, and the legacy of WWII, which it is still grappling with today. A disturbing novel about ordinary people's capacity for evil. Interesting insights into Japanese society's relationship with the West, modernity, and the legacy of WWII, which it is still grappling with today.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Extraordinary treatment of a horrifying theme

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gregski

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. In this novel, Endo uses two elements that I’ve noticed in other works like Silence and Volcano: creating an inner drama that is amplified by the environment. Here, the sea off of Fukuoka and the water running on the floor of the operating rooms serve as a swelling pressure (social / peer pressure, despair, fear) that is ever bearing on the characters. Through the novel-which culminates in the vivisection of American POWs-we see the men and women involved and how they arrive in a place to, for s In this novel, Endo uses two elements that I’ve noticed in other works like Silence and Volcano: creating an inner drama that is amplified by the environment. Here, the sea off of Fukuoka and the water running on the floor of the operating rooms serve as a swelling pressure (social / peer pressure, despair, fear) that is ever bearing on the characters. Through the novel-which culminates in the vivisection of American POWs-we see the men and women involved and how they arrive in a place to, for some, be totally unaffected by the murder in which they participate. Endo shows how life’s challenges and influences can shape people in ways that may to the outside seem shocking. We see contrasting reactions, some of guilt, others of unfeeling coldness. Most readers will identify with Suguro who has heart wrenching guilt. But I think the more interesting observations come from the characters who are unaffected by participating in the murder : 1) because of a long-standing feeling of emptiness stemming from the loss of a beloved child and the endless despair of living during the war; and 2) a man who has always benefitted from superior status and allowing others to take the fall. You find yourself feeling sorry for them and yet still disgusted at the same time. But Endo helps us see how, as he believed, anyone can devolve and do terrible things. There were parts of the novel that dragged for me, but it definitely picked up and was fascinating and difficult to get through. I’m normally not a squeamish person, but the vivisection description was chilling and sickening. The events in the story are inspired by true events. More about the Japanese experiments on US, Chinese, and Koreans can be found here: https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theg... I recommend this novel for anyone interested in WWII or Endo’s oeuvre. Very different subject matter than I was used to with him, but his talent for character and emotion shines through as always. A novel that asks us to contemplate our individual responsibility and teaches us that inaction in injustice can be participation in sin.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Warriner

    I sort of read this book by accident. I’ve heard about Shusaku Endo for years but never read his work, and I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film, Silence, based on Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name. Then after reading a review in a friend’s blog about Endo’s 1986 novel, Scandal, I headed over to the Kinokuniya near Shinjuku Station’s east exit to see if they carried this title or any of his others. Half a dozen or so Endo novels were on the shelf but not Scandal, so at random I picked I sort of read this book by accident. I’ve heard about Shusaku Endo for years but never read his work, and I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s 2016 film, Silence, based on Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name. Then after reading a review in a friend’s blog about Endo’s 1986 novel, Scandal, I headed over to the Kinokuniya near Shinjuku Station’s east exit to see if they carried this title or any of his others. Half a dozen or so Endo novels were on the shelf but not Scandal, so at random I picked The Sea and Poison (1958). Much of this story takes place at a hospital in Fukuoka at the end of the war. It’s told from the perspectives of ordinary people, all but one of whom become involved in an atrocity. The central character is Suguro, a medical intern whose colleagues are coercing him to participate in the vivisections of two captured American pilots. For a short novel, Endo covers a lot of ground, with a focus on guilt and culpability, ethics and morality. Reading it, I knew and dreaded that I'd eventually come to the vivisections. And although they weren’t so graphic, they were described in enough detail to be disturbing, as was the impassiveness of some characters in the lead-up to those grisly experiments. Endo’s prose in this book are smooth and easy to read, while the subject matter is rough terrain that’s hard to get through in places. I do look forward to reading more of his work but hope not all of it is so dark. I'm also interested in seeing how the story is told in the 1986 film The Sea and Poison, which was directed by Kei Kumai, with Eiji Okuda as Suguro and Ken Watanabe as Toda.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Koloze

    Shusaku Endo’s novel The Sea and Poison is as relevant in the twenty-first century as a warning against medical killing as it was when first published in 1958. In fact, sixty years later, Endo’s novel functions as a warning of increasing threats against human life by those who should be in the business of protecting it, physicians. The novel’s plot is simple, yet horrifying: Dr. Suguro participates in the vivisection of American prisoners of war in Japan. That he was sent to prison for two years Shusaku Endo’s novel The Sea and Poison is as relevant in the twenty-first century as a warning against medical killing as it was when first published in 1958. In fact, sixty years later, Endo’s novel functions as a warning of increasing threats against human life by those who should be in the business of protecting it, physicians. The novel’s plot is simple, yet horrifying: Dr. Suguro participates in the vivisection of American prisoners of war in Japan. That he was sent to prison for two years for his involvement is not a spoiler alert; the author himself provides this fact on page 27, so the remaining 140 pages constitute an in medias res narrative on Dr. Suguro’s moral anguish from his collaboration in the killing of the American POWs. Along the way, the reader comes to understand the anti-life milieu which made the killing of the American POWs possible. Toda, Dr. Suguro’s friend, enunciates a strict utilitarian view of human life, where the ends of medical progress trump any Jewish or Christian valuation of human life as sacred, as in this passage: “Killing a patient isn’t so solemn a matter as all that. It’s nothing new in the world of medicine. That’s how we’ve made our progress! [….] But if she gets killed during an operation, no doubt about it, she becomes a living pillar upholding the temple of medical science” (51). Toda is the mouthpiece for an earlier statement on the anti-life milieu of wartime Japan when he asserts that “Today everybody is on the way out. The poor bastard who doesn’t die in the hospital gets his chance every night to die in an air raid” (42). That Toda cannot distinguish between killing somebody in a medical setting versus someone dying in a bombing raid is a logical fallacy easily identifiable by college students in a first-year English course. (Determining whether it is simply an invalid syllogism, a non sequitur, or a red herring would generate a wonderful essay, wouldn’t it?) Of course, a serious study of Endo’s novel should make the slippery slope evident. If someone can abort his own child, then that disrespect for human life will manifest itself against disrespect for the born. The clinical language that Endo uses to describe Toda’s killing of his own child compares with American authors, both pro- and anti-life, whose abortionist characters regard the unborn child as a thing instead of a human being: "I borrowed the necessary instruments from a friend studying obstetrics, and with my own hands, I scraped out the foetus. To see what I was doing, I had nothing to depend upon but one flashlight. And so with sweat pouring off me, I pulled out the small, bloody lump of flesh. The intention foremost in my mind was never to let anyone know about this unhappy miscalculation, not to have my whole life ruined because of a girl like this." (122-3) The literary technique of dehumanization of both the unborn child killed in the abortion (a “small, bloody lump of flesh” and an “unhappy miscalculation”) and the callous disregard for the aborted mother, who undergoes extreme pain in the abortion (“a girl like this”), is evident twenty pages later when the first American POW is killed in the vivisection (146-8). While the reader sees a human being, the doctors see the equivalent of a laboratory rat. The POWs are sedated with ether and then experimented on by having saline or air injected into their veins or having a portion of the lung removed so that the various times of death can “be ascertained” (77). The passive voice verb shows that the dehumanization affects not only the POWs, but the doctors themselves, who are the agents of the killings. A final remarkable thing about this novel is that Endo’s religious principles are unobtrusive. With one exception, no character (except a foreigner, whose opinions are discounted for this brief review) evinces Jewish or Christian ethical principles on behalf of human life. There is “God talk”, but there is no preachiness in the few instances where characters like Toda question whether there is a God. This lack of clear religious support for the protection of human life may confuse readers who know that the author was Catholic. However, Michael Gallagher, the translator, may have resolved this dilemma when he suggests that Endo admired Catholic writer Graham Greene, who is famously quoted as saying that "He would rather be known, therefore, as a writer who happened to be a Catholic than as a Catholic writer. These remarks were widely quoted by critics of every shade of belief and disbelief, and can, I think, shed light on Endo’s own position. What followed, however, seems to have been generally overlooked: 'When one is a Catholic, everything that one writes is imbued with Catholicism.'” (6) Contemporary students might spend an engaging few hours reading Endo’s sixty-year-old novel but then spend weeks delving into the lack of respect for human life which this novel illustrates—and then perhaps months more comparing the doctors in Endo’s novel with physicians today who are agents of the forms of medical killing known as assisted suicide and euthanasia. The analysis of the novel would be time well spent, since these contemporary forms of medical killing are more aggressive now, sixty years later, than in Endo’s time. Many thanks to a Twitter colleague who suggested that I read this novel in the interests of advancing right-to-life literary theory.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eloavox

    A sobering and prolonged look at inhumanity.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    The Sea and Poison is a short, dark physiological exploration of the motives and morals of the men and women who performed vivisections of B29 airmen at Fukuoka Imperial University towards the end of World War II. The story primarily centers around the of Dr. Suguro, who in the opening of the book is practicing medicine in a dingy clinic in a backwater suburb of Tokyo, a curiosity considering his skill and proffiency that would suggest that he belonged in a proper hospital. But that career is fa The Sea and Poison is a short, dark physiological exploration of the motives and morals of the men and women who performed vivisections of B29 airmen at Fukuoka Imperial University towards the end of World War II. The story primarily centers around the of Dr. Suguro, who in the opening of the book is practicing medicine in a dingy clinic in a backwater suburb of Tokyo, a curiosity considering his skill and proffiency that would suggest that he belonged in a proper hospital. But that career is fated to someone else it seems, for Dr. Suguro is haunted by the acts he and the other doctors committed during the war at the Fukuoka Hospital. A majority of the story takes place at the hospital, while Dr. Suguro is a young intern, and told from the multiple points of view of the doctors and nurses who would ultimately choose to take part in the horrendous acts of vivisections of POWs and their muted reactions to their crimes. While the Sea and Poison is a short novel, it effectively explores the theme of morality and the practical ethics of person when under a great strain is not only willing to accept evil, but even become an active participate in unspeakable crimes. A combination for the demoralizing effect of air raids and the lust for power of the doctor’s at Fukuoka takes precedence over the care of patients to the point that their suffering and death have very little effect on the doctor’s who are all too ready to cover up mistakes and give into the demands of the military establishment. It was a bit surreal to see how the nihilism that swept Japan’s prewar culture and how the absolute devotion to authority led to doctor’s of all people to not only neglect their patients, but to harm and kill their patients with so little feeling. It’s scary to think how fragile people at times of personal crisis. The really remarkable thing about this book to me was how easy the decision became for many of the doctor’s and nurse’s who felt that there was really nothing else they could lose. A very good but very dark read whose themes are going to be with me for a while

  28. 5 out of 5

    Novia

    I have to admit that the only reason for reading this book was Caroline’s readalong event. I like Endo’s Deep River but after failed to finish Stained Glass Elegies, I sort of avoiding his other works. When Caroline started a Literature and War Readalong event, I wanted to participate as I have never joined such event. The only book she had on the list that I can find is The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo…at that time, I thought it was a good start to put my trust on Endo once more. The story sta I have to admit that the only reason for reading this book was Caroline’s readalong event. I like Endo’s Deep River but after failed to finish Stained Glass Elegies, I sort of avoiding his other works. When Caroline started a Literature and War Readalong event, I wanted to participate as I have never joined such event. The only book she had on the list that I can find is The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo…at that time, I thought it was a good start to put my trust on Endo once more. The story started with a man talking about a doctor whom he thought a bit unusual. His name was Jiro Suguro. Suguro-sensei was great in performing pneumothrax treatment on him but the doctor has a very cold touch that often made him shivered. He became more and more curious about the doctor. When he visited Fukuoka, he finally found out about the doctor’s dark past. Suguro-sensei was involved in performing vivisection of American prisoners. I have to google up to find the meaning of vivisection (Vivisection: the act or practice of performing experiments on living animals, involving cutting into or dissecting the body). The story changed from the present day (which was told by the man above) to the past when Suguro-sensei was still working in the hospital as an intern, somewhere during WWII. Suguro-sensei was one of few doctors that really concerned about his patients, especially on an old lady whom had become his first patient. He wanted to do everything he could possibly do to prolong her life even though he was fully aware that her case was hopeless. The old lady was planned to undergo an experimental surgery. He was totally against it but couldn’t do anything about it. Continue reading >> http://bokunosekai.wordpress.com/2011...

  29. 5 out of 5

    William Kirkland

    One writer who has grappled with telling a story not of war heroes and war victims, but those who have participated in war's atrocities, is Shūsaku Endō in his 1958 The Sea and Poison. Translated in 1992 by Michael Gallagher and published by New Directions, it is a short, shocking novella, told in restrained, descriptive prose and dialog. No hyperbole, simply the imaginative re-creation of a small group of doctors and nurses who used captured American pilots in medical experiments, in Japan duri One writer who has grappled with telling a story not of war heroes and war victims, but those who have participated in war's atrocities, is Shūsaku Endō in his 1958 The Sea and Poison. Translated in 1992 by Michael Gallagher and published by New Directions, it is a short, shocking novella, told in restrained, descriptive prose and dialog. No hyperbole, simply the imaginative re-creation of a small group of doctors and nurses who used captured American pilots in medical experiments, in Japan during WWII. In a country defeated (unimaginable!) in a war they had initiated (as a great nation should!) and a king who was a god ( whose voice on the radio was more earthshaking than the surrender it announced,) the idea that the sacred military and honored doctors had committed crimes could not be formed. Endō, with a great deal of courage, did so, telling an absolutely necessary story. Unfortunately for the English-language reader, the reading is made more difficult than simply the emotional impact, by authorial choices: shifts of narrator, a lack of sharpness of themes and a puzzling lack of conclusion. The Sea and Poison is, nevertheless, a book to be read when trying to understand human behavior — and certainly not just of the Japanese. for a complete review see http://www.allinoneboat.org/the-sea-a...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard Ryan

    Grim and disturbing.

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