Shūsaku Endō

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Endo, Shusaku 1923–

Endo is a distinguished Japanese playwright and novelist. As a Catholic, Endo is thematically concerned with both the confrontation and the harmony between Oriental and Christian customs. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.)

John Mellors

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By way of demonstrating [the] difficulties of Christianity in Japan, Endo has written a novel [Silence] based on the persecution by the Japanese in the 17th century of missionaries from Italy and Portugal, and of their native converts. The apostate Ferreira maintains that Christianity is wholly alien to the Japanese mind, and unable to grow there to maturity. 'The sapling I brought quickly decayed to its roots in this swamp,' he says. But there is an underlying theme that is even more important—the 'silence' of the title, 'the silence of God … the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent'….

Silence is an object-lesson to committed writers. Endo never sermonises. He has a strong, calm narrative style….

John Mellors, "Japanese Cross," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), Vol. 95, No. 2458, May 20, 1976, p. 654.∗

Louis Allen

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Endo is likely to be struggling with ["the Japanese Graham Greene"] label for many years yet.

And, of course, the relation between literature and religion is one of his main themes….

But he is far more versatile than this suggests. He is one of Japan's major comic writers, for one thing, and, in When I Whistle, he explores yet another vein, a plain realism behind which lingers a discreet but clear symbolism….

Two threads run through the book. Ozu, an unsuccessful 'salary man', bumps into someone on the train who recognises him from the prewar past at Nada Middle School. Ozu cannot place him, but the incident jogs his memory, and his childhood at Nada and friendship with the grotesque and singular Flatfish unfold…. Both boys fall in love with one of the girls, Aiko….

Interwoven with this is the story of Ozu's son, Eiichi, whose life is Endo's unflattering version of postwar Japan. Eiichi is a house surgeon who despises his father—and his father's generation—as sentimentally humanist. He also loathes him for being a nonentity…. He uses people, a nurse, a doctor's daughter, a colleague, and does not hesitate to experiment with a new drug on the body of a terminal cancer patient.

By a more than Dickensian coincidence, the patient is Aiko…. (p. 530)

There is no Citadel ending, though. Aiko dies, but Eiichi flourishes…. Ozu, at the end of the book, makes a journey back to Nada, and the inevitable happens: the old train has been scrapped, Aiko's house has been bulldozed to make way for a block of flats, the river-bed the boys wandered along is filled in. But the nadir of disillusionment is the manipulation of the sea….

It is the price that Japan, more than most countries, has paid for keeping herself up to date. Yet the contrast will not work that simply. Ozu's nostalgia does not blind him to the reality of prewar Japan….

Even so, Endo implies, something carefree survived which is missing from the calculating, ambitious Japan of his son, Eiichi. There is, really, a poverty of choice here, and the gap into which the individual slots his own remembered happiness—or the possibility of his son's—is still narrow. No change depicted by Endo summons up the fierce rejection of a Mishima. Sadness is the keynote, and its symbol the changed Aiko: a delicate beauty, unhoused and brought to penury by war, and ultimately devoured by a disease which is merely a pretext for experiment...

(This entire section contains 447 words.)

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by the new, predatory generation of young Japan. (p. 531)

Louis Allen, "Rastignac of Tokyo," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1979; reprinted by permission of Louis Allen), Vol. 101, No. 2606, April 12, 1979, pp. 530-31.

Valentine Cunningham

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When I Whistle shows how telling a novelist Shusaku Endo can be when he stops straining to live up to his dubious label as 'the Japanese Graham Greene' and settles more for being Japanese. This latest of his works to be translated into American ('Gee, teacher') rises powerfully above the limitation of its awkwardly dubbed sound to examine modern Japan—worldly, wealthy and riddled with cancer patients—in relation to the Second World War. It does so by having its narrative shuttle nicely back and forth between mediocre businessman Ozu's memories of growing up during the War, and his son Eiichi's ruthless efforts to scrabble into prominence in the medical profession. The plotting is sometimes pretty bare and occasionally close to melodrama; what's more, Endo's manner is always so absorbent that his taking the cancer ward as the typical symbol for present Japan must seem more than a nod towards Solzhenitsyn. But the link between cancerous militarism and cancerous materialism is convincingly Endo's own. Rightly, he doesn't rely merely on indignation, though there is plenty to grouse about in the Japanese wartime enthusiasms—the Banzai zeal of women sending recruits off draped in the Rising Sun to be slapped and beaten daily into fighting shape—as there is in the custom of lying to patients about their illness and using them as unknowing guinea-pigs.

There's plenty of wryness too…. And Endo's plea for ruth and fondness, the human nexus, against the inhumanitarian medical view of people as objects, cannot be bad. But, we wonder, was everything really that much better before the War? Endo's sentimental regret for the 'beautiful things' of 'the treasured past' finds paltry support in the novel's own picture of pre-war puritanism, rigidly class-bound education and rampaging behaviour of the drill-sergeants.

Valentine Cunningham, "Death in the Afternoon," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2508, April 13, 1979, p. 527.∗

Francis King

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Of all Japanese novelists, Shusaku Endo is the most accessible to Western readers. This is not merely because he spent many years in France and has obviously been influenced by a variety of European writers, but because he is also a Roman Catholic….

Whether we are Christians or not, a heritage of Christianity permeates all our thinking; but that heritage is wholly alien to all but a small section of the Japanese population.

Once again, in When I Whistle, Endo returns to the theme, already used by him in his masterly The Sea and Poison, of human vivisection. (p. 23)

The one flaw of the novel lies in the Iago-like character of Eiichi, whose evil is so calculated and complete that it is difficult to believe in him. Graham Greene, to whom critics like to compare Endo, would have shown some faint illumination of grace even in a heart so dark. Ozu on the other hand—unintellectual, ordinary, decent, hardly understanding his attachment to the memory of his dead school-friend—is a beautiful creation….

In describing Aiko's illness and death, there are moments when Endo seems to escape sentimentality only by a hair's breadth; but each time he withdraws from the edge just in time. There is a terrible sadness in his account of the war years and their humiliating aftermath; and the story of the doomed woman, who has already lost both her child and her husband in the war, is profoundly depressing….

One senses in Endo a profound hatred of change: the beautiful things that are disappearing are not only trees, rivers and old houses but also such intangibles as decency, humanity and idealism. Eiichi, with his destructive egotism, and his efficiently soulless hospital are symbols of a new Japan that frightens and awes the author.

Weaving back and forth in time, this book suffers from none of the feebleness of construction so common in even the best Japanese fiction. Saner than Mishima, closer to us than Kawabata and more universal than Tanizaki, Endo is one of the half-dozen leading novelists of the post-war period. (p. 24)

Francis King, "Experiments," in The Spectator (© 1979 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 242, No. 7866, April 14, 1979, pp. 23-4.

Edward Butscher

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Shusaku Endo has wisely set his gripping novel about one man's struggle for belief in early 18th-century Japan when medieval samurai still held sway and the brutal process of expelling Christianity (and other Western influences) was in full flower….

At the heart of Silence, whose title refers to God's muteness in the face of evil's savage triumph, throbs the sensitive, if vain, awareness of Sebastian Rodrigues, a young Portuguese Jesuit who has slipped into Japan with a fellow missionary to tend whatever native Christians they can find and to discover why Christovao Ferreira, a former teacher and hero, has apparently renounced his faith rather than endure a glorious martyrdom. Sebastian's own capture by the authorities, which had seemed inevitable from the start, gives the novel much of its impressive narrative power, as does the dramatic series of climactic confrontations with both Ferreira and Inoue, the Japanese magistrate who embodies a very contemporary marriage between intellect and detached inhumanity.

Although flawed by a somewhat simplistic grasp of philosophical complexities and a taste for elemental characterizations, Endo's terse tale has a subtle way of penetrating sophisticated thresholds into the cellar of self where more primitive emotions rule. We root for Sebastian to find salvation even as we reject the terms of his inner dilemma.

Edward Butscher, "Books in Brief: 'Silence'," in Saturday Review (© 1979 by Saturday Review Magazine Corp.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 6, No. 15, July 21, 1979, p. 50.

Ivan Gold

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The final chapter of this profoundly moving, profoundly disturbing book [Silence] consists of excerpts from the diary of a Dutch clerk in Nagasaki in which the drama that we have been so intimately exposed to is seen from the remote perspective of a man concerned with commercial matters. The feeling is similar to viewing the action off in a corner of a Brueghel painting, or to watching a figure almost lost in the mists of a Japanese scroll….

Shusaku Endo … is described on the dust jacket as "the leading writer in Japan." On the strength of this splendid novel, he may very well be. The quotation from Graham Greene on the front cover—"In my opinion one of the finest novels of our time"—does not seem like hyperbole. (p. 5)

Ivan Gold, "The Cross and the Sword: The Anguish of Faith in 17th-Century Japan," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), September 2, 1979, pp. 4-5.

Paul Wilkes

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[Shusaku Endo's Jesus in A Life of Christ] is approached carefully, quietly, as if his story is to be told accompanied by a simple tune on a hand-carved flute….

[The pace is] slow, the history interesting, the tone reverent, as would befit a man who is trying to tell his people, the Japanese, of a man they know as little about as we do of Buddha. I quickly flagged. Good intentions, my friend, but….

I felt I was in the company of a good, old friend, a baker of substantial whole wheat loaves. Perhaps, as we sometimes reject those plodding, well-intentioned friends of ours, I'd not waited long enough for him. I'd wanted to be swept away and all my friend Endo wanted to do was take me along for a walk.

Paul Wilkes, "Jesus, East and West," in Commonweal (copyright © 1979 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CVI, No. 18, October 12, 1979, p. 574.∗


Endō, Shūsaku (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Endo, Shusaku (Vol. 19)