Scandal, Japanese novelist Shusaku End’s seventh novel to be translated into English, can be called part confessional, part parable, and part psychological thriller. It represents at once his most compelling and complex plot and his most fully realized portrait of the difficulty of communicating as a Christian within the profoundly nontheistic culture of his native Japan. End’s serious novels have consistently treated the theme of Christianity’s failure to take root in the East; indeed, in many ways that has been their sole theme. While each of those previous novels has concerned this dilemma, they have always been focused rather retrospectively, on a Japanese society either premodern (Chimmoku, 1966, translated as Silence, 1969; Samurai, 1980, translated as The Samurai, 1982), war-torn (Umi to dokuyaku, 1957, translated as The Sea and the Poison, 1972), or postwar (Kazan, 1959, translated as Volcano, 1978; Kuchibue o fuku toki, 1974, translated as When I Whistle, 1979; Obaka san, 1959, translated as Wonderful Fool, 1974). In Scandal, however, End confronts directly his longtime novelistic challenge within the setting of a triumphant, industrialized Japan of the 1980’s.
In a land in which less than 1 percent of the populace professes belief in Christianity, how does the Christian writer make sensible to his readers the concepts of sin, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life? In effect, Scandal emerges as End’s uneasy but electrifying resolution of that problem, as he offers a shocking, realistic profile of an aging writer not unlike himself. Caught in a web of sinister intrigue, Suguro, an eminent Japanese author, must learn how to deal with his private passions and novelistic responsibilities. As he nears the end of an acclaimed career, Suguro is singled out for a literary prize for his latest novel, a book that he thinks marks a new harmony in his oeuvre. At the awards ceremony, his longtime colleague and skeptical friend, Kan, introduces him to the assembled crowd with a glib but complimentary speech. Suguro’s achievement, Kan observes, is an authentic treatment of the theme that within every sin one finds the desire of a man to find a way of escape from his suffocating life. Suguro, amused but also made pensive by Kan’s somewhat backhanded compliments, ponders to himself, “None of you has any idea how difficult it is for a Christian to write fiction in Japan.” As the ceremony winds down, Suguro catches a glimpse of a man curiously resembling himself—a near double of Suguro whose expression is distinguished from his only by its sneer.
What should have been a joyful occasion dissolves, however, into an embarrassing and potentially scandalous public encounter. A young portrait artist, Motoko, who has come uninvited to the postceremony reception, claims to have met the saintly, award-winning author in Tokyo’s red-light district—where she says he has done “some very naughty things.” Though Suguro immediately denies knowing the woman or anything about her accusation, the spectacle is observed by Kobari, an ambitious young literary journalist who thereafter makes it his aim to prove the charge and elevate his own career while bringing the venerable Suguro down. The accusation is thus doubly disturbing to Suguro. At sixty-five, he is held in reverence by his readership and most of his fellow writers, and the thought that his religious commitment could be questioned and thus undermine the integrity of his work is a sudden and devastating blow. Even more troubling to Suguro, however, is the possibility that in some preternatural sense the charge might be true. He is immediately haunted by a memory of the stranger with his face, that mysterious figure whose existence, it seems, threatens Suguro’s marriage, career, and faith.
End soon introduces two characters widely disparate in their dispositions and preoccupations but whose lives are intertwined with the novel’s denouement. The first is the virginal teenager Mitsu, who respectfully calls Suguro “sensei,” or teacher, as she dutifully cleans his office to earn pocket money for herself and her indigent family. After an erotic dream, Suguro reluctantly admits to himself that he is attracted to her. Later, he finds it convenient to dismiss her after his wife discovers that she has been pilfering money from him, ostensibly to give to a needy family. By removing this object of his elderly lust, Suguro hopes to avoid the distracting uneasiness of his own sinful passion and turn his full attention to investigating the scandal enveloping him.
Invited to an exhibition of Motoko’s work, Suguro confronts the enigmatic artist in the seediest part of Tokyo, where he indeed inexplicably discovers a portrait of himself in the gallery. Here he also encounters the mysterious, self-assured Madame Naruse, who introduces herself and immediately accuses the writer of failing to confront the truth about himself. Unsure of...