The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

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Translated from the German by Philip Boehm

Winner of the 2020 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s 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.