Literature and War Readalong May Wrap up: The Sea and Poison


Shusaku Endo’s novel The Sea and Poison proved to be a challenging read which is also reflected in the fact that some reviews will still be posted. I will of course link to them once they are done. For the time being you can always read Novroz’ review which complements my own very well.

For the time being thanks a lot for those who already participated. I know that the idea of reading about vivisection held some readers back but it isn’t a graphic book at all. Nevertheless it is a depressing book that seems to center on two major themes, one of which hospitals and their staff, the other war crimes.

What depressed me was the description of the hospital and the doctors. My late mother spent more time in hospitals than outside, so I have had my fair share of contact with doctors and most of them were not like Suguro but rather like Toda or Hashimoto. Doctors in hospitals that is. I’d like to emphasize this. Doctors who stay in hospitals after having been interns follow another agenda. A hospital in many cases isn’t much different from a Corporate Company. It’s all about results and money and hierarchy. What I didn’t know at the time of my reading is the fact that Endo suffered all his life. He was very ill, had tuberculosis and some of the treatments described in the novel in great detail were treatments he had to undergo regularly. For anyone interested in this background here is an interesting analysis.

Thanks to Kevin who did some research and added them in his comments, it became clear that the book was based on facts and that there had indeed been American POW on whom they performed vivisections. Here is the link he added to the comments section.

This leads us to the biggest problem of this book, as Kevin and Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) pointed out and which was probably the base for my doubting the incident. Why did Endo chose to describe the vivisection as if it had been performed under anesthesia when it is apparently well-known, that like in Germany, the vivisections were performed without the prisoners being anesthetized? I have no answer to this question and don’t want to start speculating.

Does anyone have an idea?

6 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong May Wrap up: The Sea and Poison

    • That’s what i was thinking as well, yes, that he wanted to tone it down. I see the others didn’t appreciate this. A readalong is very different from a challenge. It also gives other the opportunity to participate who have no blog or no book blog. I like that you can “talk” about a book with others, exchange impressions.

  1. I’m still reading slowly, but maybe this weekend I can catch up! I knew that these things had happened, but it’s not something that is pleasant to learn about. It is shocking the things people will do to other people and I will be curious to read what rationale Endo gives.

    • It is shocking, yes. It is a bleak book, the hospital scenes are depressing without even getting into the vivisection. The way the doctors treat their patients.

    • I really know what you mean. Saying one “likes” a book like this would seem almost cynical but I think he is a great writer. He captures details very well and really asks some uncomfortable questions.

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