This story, set in a hospital in a Japan demoralized by Allied air-raids, concerns an intern, Dr. Suguro, who is coopted by an ambitious senior surgeon to participate in medical experiments involving vivisection of captured American airmen. The experiments are to determine how much lung tissue can be removed before the patient dies, how much saline solution, and how much air can be injected into the blood before death occurs. Ostensibly this knowledge will improve treatment of tuberculosis which is ravaging the country. The real motivation arises from the brutality of the military, from competition among hospital department heads, and from an atmosphere of nihilism in the face of almost certain defeat by the Allies.

Dr. Suguro's acquiescence humiliates him. Paralyzed by moral conflict into non-action in the operating room, he succumbs to deeper shame and humiliation. The novel begins many years after the event, when a narrator comes as a patient to Dr. Suguro's dilapidated clinic.


This is a book about the killing of patients--that is, humans who are helpless and who are expecting care. The rationale is that they are going to die anyway, at random, in an air-raid, so their death might as well serve the interests of knowledge wielded by the doctors who have become their masters. The opposition of atrocity and rationale, of carelessness among care-givers, of servile ambition among healers, creates an atmosphere of trenchant irony. It is the prevailing moral deprivation that Endo explores through the images of war, sickness, and want in a society at the end of its tether.


Translated by Michael Gallagher. Published in Japan, Bungei Shunju, 1958.


Peter Owen

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