Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fortnightly Book, January 8

What is often called the Third Generation of post-war Japanese novelists began to come into prominence in the early 1950s. (The Third Generation author best known to English speakers is currently Shusako Endo.) The Third Generation was heavily interested in combining literary craft with daring message; it was a generation of authors that, seeing themselves as transitional, did not in general expect to have a lasting fame, which freed them to try things that might not have been fashionable or popular. The Third Generation was not a merely transitional era, though; it has been highly successful in its own terms. It was also a period that saw an explosion in women taking up the pen to write for the love of writing. Among these, one of the more popular was Ayako Sono.

Sono was born in 1931. She attended college at the University of Sacred Heart in Tokyo and, while there, began writing stories, first for various fanzines and then for more widely read publications, which were often nominated for awards. She wrote a series of bestselling novels, only a few of which have been translated into English. One of these translated works is Kami-No-Yogoreta-Te, which means something like 'The Dirty Hand of (the) God'; the English translation, however, is titled, Watcher from the Shore, and it is the next fortnightly book. The translation is by Edward Putzar; it apparently has some abridgements and revisions, but they were authorized by the author herself.

Dr. Sadaharu Nobeji is a gynecologist and obstetrician in a small town not far from the ocean. His little clinic deals with the usual kinds of cases -- ordinary births, infertility, miscarriages, abortions, children born deformed. He has a ten-year-old girl and a wife; he and his wife are not exactly at odds, but she is often gone, and has affairs with other men. He is devoted to his patients, a quiet, humble man hoping to make life better for them, and foregoing all possibility of a much more lucrative career in order to do so. He tries, beyond that, to be detached, not judgmental, not involved in the moral decisions of his patients. But things are not so simple. Cases differ widely, and some of them do not so allow him much room to be hands-off; patients, for instance, sometimes need advice and do not know who else to turn to, or they will demand things that Sadaharu cannot help but think dubious or damaging. Being a good doctor who sees his patients as people, and thus as moral agents, he cannot help but see their choices as moral choices, and as a devoted doctor sometimes cannot avoid being right in the middle of those choices. And as time goes on, he increasingly realizes that his moral framework is simply not good enough for dealing with the choices he finds himself making. It is difficult standing alone, buffeted by the wind.


[Elvis Presley, "An Evening Prayer", a song mentioned and quoted in the book.]

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