The story is based on the life of Hanaoka Seishu, Japanese physician, who lived from 1760-1835. The author, using Hanaoka’s personal papers, has created a fictional representation of the jealous hatred that grows between his mother and his wife living in their feudal Japanese household. The physician is involved in trying to develop an anesthetic which would enable surgeons to remove diseased breasts. The beautiful, widowed mother of the young surgeon begins to compete with his wife for the "privilege" of being his first human subject to take the toxic substances. The remainder of the story revolves around the complex relationship among the family members, with predictably unhappy outcomes, and the results of the experiment.


Because the author of this work grew up in the province in which Hanaoka lived and practiced and the piece is reconstructed from personal papers, the reader may fairly presume historical accuracy in terms of the work being done by this physician. The methodology for concocting and animal testing the new agents is of intrigue to those interested in the history of medical discovery. The ethos of "voluntary" human experimentation is central to the book, although not overtly discussed as a medical moral dilemma.


Translated by Wakako Hironaka and Ann Siller Kostant


Kodansha International

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