THE SEA AND POISON by Shusako Endo is a great book in two ways – the story it tells is an interesting and important one but it doesn’t bludgeon you over the head with moralizing and how the story is told through several different narrators continually exposes new facets of both the Japanese character and the motivations of the characters.
I was continually surprised not by what was told but by how it was told in a complex creative way
A war crime, the vivisection of a captured American soldier By the Japanese during World War II, is seen through several different eyes in three sections. The first section first takes place a number of years after WWII where a new arrival in town seeks out a local doctor, Sugoro, for treatment for an ongoing condition. The doctor’s odd unfriendly behaviour but skill in treating the first narrator causes him to ask a few questions and we find this doctor was actually implicated in the vivisection scandal that is the main event of the novel. He was partially cleared but the scandal hurt his career.
We then move back in time to right before this occurred. Everything is told through the eyes of Suguro who was a young intern and was semi-bullied inTO taking part in this activity. We see he is a caring doctor and we are also introduced elderly doctor who is being forced out.
The second section shows us the action through two other narrators an aggressive senior intern, a colleague of Sugoro, and a nurse who is bitter and frustrated and angry about the disappointments in her life. It establishes the mindsets of people who would knowingly go along with an atrocity like this through their own lives of anger and disappointment and general sociopathic behavior.
The third section describes the crime itself in a very cold blooded clinical way.
A fabulous book filled with morality told in an imaginative way. The question that is aksed at the end is not an easy one to answer. Could I have done more?