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Watcher from the Shore by Ayako Sono

Watcher from the Shore (edition 1990)

by Ayako Sono, Edward Putzar (Translator)

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Title:Watcher from the Shore
Authors:Ayako Sono
Other authors:Edward Putzar (Translator)
Info:Kodansha Amer Inc (1990), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 376 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, Japan

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Watcher from the Shore by Ayako Sono



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Dr. Sadaharu Nobeji is an OB/GYN who’s philosophy of life seems to be “Look out for number one, in the laziest manner possible.” This is the ethical theme that runs through the novel by Japanese author Ayako Sono in Watcher from the Shore (New York: Kodansha International, 1989). The story follows Sadaharu through a season of his life, an established physician in middle-age with his own clinic in a quiet part of Japan. We see into his family life, his friendships and his medical practice, which, despite his best efforts, overlap in increasingly complex ways.

Sono shows the complexity of a physician practicing Sadaharu’s specialty in a time when abortion is legal and people are particularly sensitive to how they appear to others. While the Japanese may have a highly evolved set of behaviors to regulate their persona before others, as is seen in James Clavell’s Shogun, I felt the behavior of the characters portrayed in Sono’s book was universal. I have seen some of it first-hand, and if we looked deeply within our culture I’m certain we would find examples of the extremes presented here.

As an OB/GYN, Sadaharu finds both the bringing forth of life and the ending of it to be all in a day’s work. He does not have any feelings of conscience regarding the practice of abortion and finds that the roughly 200 he performs per year to be essential to the financial health of his practice. There is a caveat though, as on the rare occasion where he performs a late-term abortion. It is a practice he avoids due to its risks of complication, but he also finds it to be on the very edge of killing an actual human being.

For Sadaharu, the fetus is not human if it can survive outside the womb, and he has no qualms about abortions earlier in a pregnancy. He also has no reservations about choosing abortion in cases of suspected birth defects, for the sake of convenience, or to preserve social standing. True-to-form, he keeps these opinions to himself, sharing them only with a close friend when he has had too much to drink.

There are some interesting turns of plot here, particularly within Sadaharu’s marriage and his friendships with an older widowed woman and the Catholic priest she introduces him to. In his conversations with the woman, who is Catholic, and the priest, we learn that Sadaharu’s main goal in life is to preserve the homeostasis he lives in, i.e. maintaining his personal comfort with minimal effort. It is a goal that can’t last.

As Sadaharu moves through this season of his life he finds himself thinking, pondering the possibility of a reference point in life outside of himself. Does he find one? We don’t know. In Sono’s tale of a man with the barest sense of personal ethics she invites us to consider our own ethical framework, trusting that in so doing we’ll discern that life is about more than just us. Much more. ( )
  BradKautz | Nov 3, 2012 |
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