The Fox and Dr. Shimamura

Fiction by Christine Wunnicke

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.…
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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.
—Gregory Ariail, Kenyon Review
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.
World Literature Review
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