The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo

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The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo

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Jan 5, 2012, 12:56 pm

I read this short novel yesterday, and my review is here. Several of you reviewed it in recent months, and I ordered it based on your recommendations even before we decided to make this Endo's year. I can only echo the praise you have already given it.

Editado: Jan 26, 2012, 4:10 pm

You can read my review of The Sea and Poison here. I gave it 4½ stars.

Fev 10, 2012, 9:13 am

I just finished The Sea and Poison yesterday, and I'm still processing it. It is a deceptively easy read; only 160 pages, and can be read in a couple hours. For me, it is one of those books that has to be read in one sitting. After revealing early that the story was going to be about vivisection experiments on U.S. POWs in Japan, Endo somehow manages to slowly and consistently build a mood of horror until we get to the "experiment" itself. He reveals something of the backgrounds of some of the minor players in the atrocity (although they are the major characters in the books) and the reasons why they agree to participate, and why one of them can't go through with it in the end. Horrifying but fascinating.

I come at the book from the perspective of a research scientist. The idea that these experiments could be proposed, approved, and executed just blows my mind. I realize that it was during wartime, and that informed consent wasn't around in normal labs at that time (no IRB!), much less in this setting, but it is still hard to digest. And the attitude towards the old woman early in the first part, wanting to give her an unhelpful and probably lethal surgical procedure! She wasn't an enemy combatant, but she wasn't treated like a human being. None of the TB patients were.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful, difficult, thought-provoking book. It'll stay with me for a long time.

Fev 12, 2012, 11:33 pm

Isn't it just a fantastic book! I also read it all in one setting because I was so engrossed in the story. My thoughts toward the book have always been centered around the idea of how people can plod along with a scenario despite what seems like very obvious morally wrong signs flashing about. That only Suguro was able to step back and think about the atrocity of their actions really makes you think about the sheep/lemmings attitude. But being confronted with the idea that many of these types of surgeries/experiments, if successful, would indeed change the face of medicine, must also be difficult. To what point is it worth the sacrifice? Truly fascinating book.

I read this book last year and if anyone wants to read my review of it they can see it off of my profile or on the works page. I'm glad to see everyone so far has enjoyed and gotten a lot out of this book so far. Silence will be my next Endo.

I read Endo's The Girl I Left Behind last year which was also quite well done. That one is about leprosy in Japan and the social stigma surrounding the disease, if anyone is curious.

Fev 13, 2012, 2:37 pm

It also points out the extent to which loyalty plays a role in shifting the good/evil decision toward evil. The Old Man (I forget his name) certainly had an incentive to give the go-ahead with the experiments (getting the head whatever job or not getting the head whatever job). And then Todo (is that right?) and Suguro both wanted their mentor to get the job, because it would promote theircareers, as well.

To what point is it worth the sacrifice?
This is one of those questions that comes up in every single NIH-mandated responsible conduct of research seminar I've been to. It is easier, now that the decision has been made (passive voice intended), and these sort of horrific experiments are not ok. But something less obviously wrong? I thought the book did a wonderful job illustrating this, and how it could be used to rationalize one's own morally wrong actions.

Mar 25, 2012, 11:09 am

You can read my review of The Sea and Poison on the book page or on my Club Read thread. I was thinking a lot about the title, and it seems to me that the poison is the insidiousness of the idea of going along with the group and promoting your own future at any cost. But what also struck me was that the characters lacked the courage to say "no," and I found lack of courage a theme in another Japanese novel I've read for this theme read, Natsume Soseki"s Sanshiro (although in that case it is personal courage rather than moral courage). I'm wondering if those of you who've read more Japanese literature find this to be something that comes up frequently.

I also agree that the book did an excellent job of showing how people rationalize their actions, but for me the scene with the liver took it to a whole additional level of horror.

Mar 25, 2012, 4:27 pm

For those who have loved Sea and Poison I highly recommend it following that up with his When I Whistle. Similar themes that pair up in a lovely way. I created a separate thread for the book.