The Doctor's Wife
Here, finally, a month after I promised it, is the last of Ariyoshi's books to be reviewed, (I still plan and look forward to getting to her four available short stories this year).
The Doctor's Wife tells the story of medical innovation and the women involved. Taking place around the turn of the 19th century in Wakayama south or Osaka, we meet Kae, the young daughter of a wealthy family and soon to be daughter in law to the stunningly beautiful Otsugi.
The relationship starts out great. The kind mother in law brings home the bride and tells her great tales of the family and the son, her husband, the yet un-introduced Hanaoka, the soon to be doctor, far too busy to attend his own wedding. (You can't change history, but I've never met a man with Hana as part of his name, and two of the main characters in Ariyoshi's The River Key are named a version of Hana, so I probably had to double back and check a handful of times whenever the name appeared, as opposed to the more often used doctor title, to be sure it was referring to the man and not a sister... but I digress)
Almost as surprising as the kind introduction of the mother in law, is the follow up of learning that the son is also soft, kind and understanding of his young bride. Up to this point the work is able to avoid stereotypes that might be expected to create the tale of doctor's wife that we know by the title will be central to our reading.
Then, it happens. The mother in law becomes the mother in law that we knew she had to be: Angry, rude, vindictive to a point.
As the story goes on, (and I won't ruin any more plot lines) much is explained of the mindset of the older and younger women as they battle, and with that depth the book redeems itself a lot, but to be honest, the change felt too sudden and so against the character as we had grown to know her.
Again, I think the last 50 pages or so of this work brings it back to the level that I hoped for from Ariyoshi, while at the same time introducing an incredible piece of Japanese/feminist history. Without the help of these women, (and many, many dead dogs and cats) Hanaoka surely would have had a much more difficult time developing the anesthetic for which he became famous. That this anesthetic led to the possibility of survival from breast cancer also lends itself well to the themes of women helping men to help women to create a circle where we all work together and all should be recognized.
In the end, I give this a mediocre and reserved recommend. As in many of her works, Ariyoshi takes sudden and massive jumps in time, and although nowhere near as bad as in The Kabuki Dancer, here it bothered me much more than in The River Key. So, a decent read if you like Ariyoshi, but unlike the many friends who told me that this is their favorite Ariyoshi book, I would put it at number three, behind my favorite, The Twilight Years and the before mentioned The River Key.
So, maybe it's self-explanatory why this work took me a little while to finish, but, again, if you push through a bit, the ending brings about more value.
Want more Ariyasu?
The Kabuki Dancer
The River Ki
The Twilight Years
Wanna grab a copy?