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The Sea and Poison (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – April, 1992


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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook (Book 737)
  • Paperback: 167 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions; Reprint edition (April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811211983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811211987
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Against the backdrop of World War II, Japanese writer Endo ( Scandal ) explores the nature of morality. In this novel, originally published in Japan in 1958, the author examines the inner lives of three characters in the central drama, a grisly vivisection of an American prisoner of war, in an attempt to understand what conscience, or lack of conscience, allowed them to participate in such an atrocity. Through the character of Suguro, an unsophisticated medical intern from the country bullied into acquiescence in the crime by his colleague, Toda, the cynical son of a wealthy doctor, we see how pangs of conscience are not enough to save one from the consequences of participation--even as only an observer--in an unethical act. Endo's finely wrought descriptions of place and the monotonous routine of daily life in a hospital subtly but powerfully evoke the despair and terror of a people at war. He presents here a decidedly postmodern world, where individuals exist in a state of disconnected anomie. Despite its bleakness, the novel is compulsively readable. We are fascinated even as we are repelled by these characters' moral corruption and their slow, inevitable decline.

Copyright 1992 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
My compliments to the reviewers who have contributed to the further publicity of this harrowing and psychologically complex novel, an exploration of those who have denounced their spirituality in exchange for social acceptance, and the consequences they have to suffer. I would like to just add one side note. There is an excellent film adaptation of SEA AND POISON, directed by Kumai Kei in 1986. Because of the controversial subject matter, no major studio would finance the film and it took Kumai years to finish it. (It would certainly not be made in today's Japan, considering the strength of revisionists and glorifiers of the imperial past) This movie has also been nearly completely neglected in the US, no doubt due to its unflinching realism, thoroughly unexotic visuals and political content, something we do not expect from the country mostly known to us through bubblehead animation, Power Rangers and Godzilla. Please do seek it out, if you have wherewithal to do so, and show it to as many Americans (and Chinese, etc.) as you can. I believe the US distrubtor in 1987 was Gates Films.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Obedience to authority and power leads people to harm others, and not being able to resist authority of someone higher is human weakenss. It seems that the Intern named Toda is the one Endo wanted to emphasize upon. The charactor of Toda remainds me of Albert Camus's "The Stranger," and Dostoevsky's "Devils," and it can also be related to other charactors Endo draws in his other novels. Can people feel guilty without punishment of the society? What is morality? What is "right" and "wrong" in such an absurd world like today?
There is a sequel to The Sea and Poison. I do not believe that it is published in the United States, but it is about Dr. Suguro's later life. People judge him and punish him under the name of "democracy" and its "justice." Dr. Suguro ends up hanging himself. Can people judge and punish others? If judging and blaming are the meaning of justice, how does it differ from what is unjust?
I am Japanese, and I personally think that Endo is the best writer from our country. I strongly recommend all his work to Americans.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Endo creates a haunting portrait of characters caught up in the vivisection of an American prisoner of war during the latter days of the Pacific War and their reactions to their crime. Through the separate narrations of each character, we see how the nihilism that swept Japan's prewar intelligentsia prepared each character for his or her role in the vivisection. Evocative of the understatement in Camus's "The Stranger," Endo's characters relate their stories in straight line, cinematic narrations which reveal the desensitivity to life and suffering that Japan's prewar society had conditioned them to, and in doing so Endo offers readers a sober warning of the dangers of living in a moral vacuum.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mouldy Pilgrim on June 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
Edmund Burke would have agreed with Endo's novel "The Sea and Poison". Although a short novel, it is one that delves into some very deep issues about morality and the ethics of passively accepting evil in one's presence.

Contrary to another review, "The Sea and Poison" is not based on the activities of Unit 731 in Manchuria at all. The novel is based on the vivisection of 8 B29 crewmen at Fukuoka Imperial University. These experiments involved removal of lung tissue, puncturing hearts and other experiments, while the airmen were alive. None survived the experiments.

Returning to the novel, Endo focuses on a medical intern, Suguro, and his friend Toda. Both characters represent very different responses to the proposal to vivisect the airmen. Toda feels no guilt or remorse, and has no issue with taking part. It is not even matter of justifying it to hinmself: he just has little response in his conscience. Suguro, on the other hand, is flooded with doubt, ethical problems, and his own conscience. Shown to be a basically kind man, the novel reinforces Burke's suggestion that all evil needs is for good men to do nothing.

A burning look into the morality of the passive, "The Sea and Poison" will challenge and provoke. Despite its brevity, it packs a punch, and will leave you thinking for long after you have turned the last page. As usual, Endo has written a fantastic novel with real weight.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mihoko Tokoro on April 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Condition of human hearts is so fragile yet too stubbon. This is a fiction losely based on what happened in Unit 731 (Japanese Imperial Army) in Manchuria where live vivisection and human experimentation were performed for development of biological weapon. Doctors were young, innocent and ambitious then and commited henious sins on POWs sometimes willingly but somtimes under pressure. This type of internal human battle does not stop here, it's in every hearts in every countries. Endo is a devoted chatholic and he looks into human hearts from an angle where we don't want God to see.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
When the sanctity of life is not honored, no one is safe, as the characters keep saying -- "Today everybody's on the way out. ... What's the point,then, of pitying ... ." As Endo implies, everybody is ALWAYS on some point of the continuum from birth to death so we are all in jeopardy when the Modernist utilitarian philosophy is applied. It is only a matter of changing the definition of who is no longer "qualified" to live. People steeped in such a system have no defense, no final moral keep or fortress from which to defy a system based on such principles and say "No." All social interaction and politics becomes mere maneuvering to control the decision-making machinery to avoid being politcally or legally "defined" out of humanity. After reading Gitta Sereny's "Into That Darkness (a biography of Treblinka Commandant Franz Stangl), Endo's fiction rings out as basic human truth.
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