The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

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Overview

A delicious mix of East and West, of wonder and irony, The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is a most curious novel

Winner of the 2020 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize

The Fox and Dr. Shimamura toothsomely encompasses East and West, memory and reality, fox-possession myths, and psychiatric mythmaking. As an outstanding young Japanese medical student at the end of the nineteenth century, Dr. Shimamura is sent—to his dismay—to the provinces: he is asked to cure scores of young women afflicted by an epidemic of fox possession. Believing it’s all a hoax, he considers the assignment an insulting joke, until he sees a fox moving under the skin of a young beauty... Next he travels to Europe and works with such luminaries as Charcot, Breuer and Freud—whose methods, Dr. Shimamura concludes, are incompatible with Japanese politeness. The ironic parallels between Charcot’s theories of female hysteria and ancient Japanese fox myths—when it comes to beautiful, writhing young women—are handled with a lightly sardonic touch by Christine Wunnicke, whose flavor-packed, inventive language is a delight.

 

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Janice P. Nimura

There is little that is fixed in Christine Wunnicke's glittering, absurdist jewel of a novel…Wunnicke paints nightmarishly hectic European scenes in a palette of absinthe and Toulouse-Lautrec, and alternates them with nightmarishly static scenes of Shimamura's declining, colorless present in Japan. Connections proliferate like reflections in a house of mirrors, fascinating and also vaguely queasy—the narrative is disorienting in every sense of the word. But absurdist fiction, like psychotherapy, requires an investment of energy and a suspension of judgment. The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is worth the effort.

Publishers Weekly

01/28/2019

Wunnicke (Missouri) spoofs the misogynist history of psychology in this clever and rewarding novel of slippery memories tinged with Japanese myths. In the novel’s frame, retired Japanese neurologist Shun’ichi Shimamura is ailing from consumption, watched over by his mother, his wife, her mother, and a maid, who was either a nurse or a former patient. As a new doctor in 1891, Shimamura traveled the countryside in search of women afflicted by a folkloric fox possession. After many false reports, a genuine case shakes Shimamura and becomes even stranger when his annoyingly eager young traveling companion goes missing, and the fox transfers into Shimamura’s body. Hiding his constant fevers and mysteriously sudden allure to women, Shimamura travels to Europe on an imperial government stipend to study neurological disorders. He first goes to France where language barriers frustrate him, and then to Germany, acting as both research assistant and unwitting subject of study, as a male neurotic, for famous pioneers of psychology, including Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer. In his later years, Shimamura’s own hazy recollections and the interference of his household make for a complicated puzzle about the reliability of the narration. This gracefully amusing blend of history and imagination will beguile readers keen on questionable narrators and magical realism. (Apr.)

Die Zeit

A wonderful and most of all wonderfully told story.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

What a beautiful book!

Rosmarie Waldrop

“Delightfully crazy—very nicely told: Wunnicke succeeds in drawing us into the logic of this mad world, where the fox moving under a girl’s skin is as vivid (and believable?) as Charcot’s demonstration of the arc of la grande hysterie.

New York Times Book Review

Wunnicke paints nightmarishly hectic European scenes in a palette of absinthe and Toulouse-Lautrec, and alternates them with nightmarishly static scenes of Shimamura’s declining, colorless present in Japan. Connections proliferate like reflections in a house of mirrors, fascinating and also vaguely queasy — the narrative is disorienting in every sense of the word. But absurdist fiction, like psychotherapy, requires an investment of energy and a suspension of judgment. The Fox and Dr. Shimamura is worth the effort.

Catherine Venner - World Literature Today

A miniature voyage around the world and into the not-so-distant past. Wunnicke’s deftly drawn vignettes of Dr. Shimamura’s life provide tantalizing glimpses into the manifestations of Eastern and Western psychiatry at the turn of the last century.

The Carolina Quarterly

The Fox and Dr. Shimamura recovers the almost magical counternarratives running parallel to key moments in the history of western modernity. Shimamura is marked as someone who is navigating the hazy boundaries of gender, finding through the fox spirit some access to an internalized femininity that is rebuked by his society in the form of history’s most gendered diagnosis. Rich and engaging.

Gregory Ariail - Kenyon Review

The Fox & Dr. Shimamura is a cornucopia of strange pathologies and historical oddities, spanning multiple continents and languages, that breaks down the polarities between religion and science, supernatural hauntings and neurotic hauntings, and Eastern and Western cultural ideologies. Dr. Shimamura, a Japanese neurologist who travels to the hotspots of psychiatry in early twentieth-century Europe, thinks in both Japanese and German, and harbors a slight disdain for the backwardness of Japanese science; yet while he prides himself on being a supremely rational, modern man, he can’t shake the conviction that he is possessed by a fox that slithers under his skin. Christine Wunnicke takes her place alongside the Japanese-German writer Yoko Tawada as an adept celebrator of cosmopolitan intermixture and the magic of subverting monocultural systems.

Melissa Beck - Music and Literature

A mythical, mystical, and at times bizarre tale of a late nineteenth-century Japanese doctor who is sent to remote areas of the Shimane prefecture to cure women of fox possession. Wunnicke slyly reminds us that, although women are powerless, even when it comes to treating their own illnesses, they find ways to quietly assert their will over men.

M.A. Orthofer - The Complete Review

An appealingly haunting novel, slightly off-kilter, suggesting the unknown and the unknowable.

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2019-02-03

An elusive little novel about medicine, memory, and fox possession

Dr. Shun'ichi Shimamura, a young physician, is sent to the provinces to treat the scores of young women who appear to be suffering from fox possession. Shimamura, a bright, ambitious student, is flummoxed by the assignment: Why give credence to a superstitious belief out of Japanese folklore? It's summer, it's hot out, and all the young women turn out to have only "the most annoying diseases (dipsomania, cretinism, an ovarian abscess…)." But then Shimamura comes to the last patient. As he examines her, she begins to writhe and convulse; Shimamura can plainly see, moving beneath her skin, a fox. German writer Wunnicke's (Missouri, 2010) second novel to appear in English is a marvel, a wonder—and deeply strange. After his fox excursions, Dr. Shimamura sets off to study in Europe. In Paris, he becomes acquainted with Dr. Charcot and his dubious work on hypnosis and hysteria. When afflicted, Charcot's female patients—he parades them around in front of a lecture hall—bear a remarkable resemblance to the woman who'd been possessed by a fox. Oddly, in the midst of all this, Shimamura's memory seems to be fading—particularly his memory of one crucial night with that last fox-possessed patient. In any case he goes on to meet other masters of early neurology and psychiatry (Freud and Breuer each make an appearance) before returning home. Ultimately Shimamura retires to a remote area where he waits for death. It is from this standpoint—a few decades after his European sojourn—that the rest of the novel is narrated. Shimamura is cared for by his wife, his mother, his wife's mother, and a housemaid—no one can remember whether the housemaid was once a nurse or a patient herself. Gradually it emerges that Shimamura's wife may be tampering with his memory, conducting little experiments of her own. What is real and what isn't? What is superstition, what is medicine? Wunnicke's sly novel offers a great deal of mystery and humor but no hard answers.

With her delicate prose, arch tone, and mischievous storytelling, Wunnicke proves herself a master of the form.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811226240
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 04/30/2019
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 242,907
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

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