A Simple Procedure

Yael Inokai

German, Hanser Berlin, 2022

“I believe they saw something sick and wanted to treat it. And they did. Until nothing was left of her.”

“Think about it. Blot out all hope and see what’s left.”

“For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say it was a delicate enterprise. Fear makes things delicate.”

“The art of medicine comes at a cost.”

A Simple Procedure, Yael Inokai’s powerful and thoughtful new novel, explores what happens when an affective disorder – a disorder of the mind – is treated with surgery. Sometimes, trying to find a cure can lead to unintended consequences.

A treatment with no side effects – that has always been the dream. And it is exactly what’s promised by a minor operation offered at the clinic where twenty-five-year-old Meret works as a nurse: people who are prone to sudden fits of rage are cured when the anger in their brains is isolated and eliminated. Meret, who comes from a disadvantaged home and has never had much faith in herself, believes in this miraculous treatment. The patients are reborn without any adverse effects. Her friend Sarah, however, with whom Meret shares a room in the nurses’ accommodation and to whom she is becoming increasingly attached, is suspicious of this claim. She mistrusts the whole notion of simply surgically removing the problem, and her worst fears are confirmed when a prominent patient fails to wake up after the operation. ‘It will get much, much worse before it gets better,’ says the surgeon, while refusing to explain his method. Yet Meret, keeping vigil by the comatose patient’s bedside, is now starting to have her doubts too.

            Writing with meticulous precision, Yael Inokai tells the story of a simple yet momentous intervention in three parts. She describes how Meret’s hopeful nature helps her to cope with the exhaustion of everyday life in the hospital, explores her response to Sarah’s scepticism, and traces how together they ultimately find a path towards liberation, freeing themselves from the constraints of their lives. At first, their conversations leave small scars, because they touch on issues deeply personal to them both. What’s left if hope is gone, Meret asks anxiously. Sarah, on the other hand, is afraid that the simple procedure, if it proves successful, may one day be performed on her.

            Between the lines, Yael Inokai asks who gets to decide when we normalise psychological issues and when we treat them. She is not concerned with medical specifics; rather, she focuses on the human element. Once something is taken from them, a person is no longer fully whole – even if that something is simply the rage simmering in their mind. This book is at once a tender love story and a powerful linguistic depiction of the way in which the characters grope towards answers in their conversations, keeping hope and scepticism in poetic balance.

Text by Beat Mazenauer

Ein simpler Eingriff
Hanser Berlin
Translation rights
Friederike Barakat, Friederike.Barakat@hanser.de
Publication date
February 2022


Yael Inokai

Born 1989 in Basel, Yael Inokai lives in Berlin. Her debut novel Storchenbiss was published in 2012. She was awarded the Swiss Literary Prize 2018 for her second novel Mahlstrom. She is a member of the editorial board of the magazine “PS: Politisch Schreiben.” She received the Anna Seghers Prize for her latest novel Ein simpler Eingriff (2022).

Photo: Ladina Bischof