Shūsaku Endō

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Introduction

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Shusaku Endo 1923–1996

Japanese novelist, playwright, short story writer, essayist, and biographer.

For further information on Endo's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 14, 19, and 54.

Endo is regarded as one of Japan's premier contemporary novelists and as one of the world's great Catholic writers. Born in Tokyo, Endo spent his early childhood in Manchuria. After his parents divorced, he and his mother returned to Japan to live with a Catholic aunt. His mother soon converted to Catholicism, and at the age of 11, Endo was baptized, an event he later described as the most critical of his life. At the time, however, Endo felt pressured to become a Catholic and compared the feeling to putting on an ill-fitting suit. Endo was uncomfortable with his Catholicism for many years, but instead of abandoning his faith, he clung to it, exploring his doubts and his faith in his writing. Endo battled lung disease his entire life, and because of his ill health was exempted from service in World War II. He studied French literature at Keio University and later became one of the first postwar Japanese students to attend a foreign school, enrolling in the University of Lyon in 1950 to pursue his interest in twentieth-century Catholic fiction. Endo's first novel, Shiroihito (1955; White Man), won the Akutagawa Prize, an award for promising young Japanese writers. Endo was a prolific writer, although not all of his works have been translated into English. He won nearly every major Japanese literary award and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature several times before his death at the age of 73.

Much of Endo's work is autobiographical in nature, drawing on his experience as a member of the Catholic minority in a largely Buddhist country. Often compared to such writers as Graham Greene and Francois Mauriac, Endo wrote passionately moral fiction in a realistic style that he frequently embellished with lyricism and humor; much of his writing explored the tension between Western Christianity and Japanese temperament, Eastern and Western morality, and belief and skepticism. Endo often portrayed Japan as lacking spirituality and morality. In his novels Kazan (1959; Volcano) and Chinmoku (1966; Silence), Christian Westerners are unable to survive in Japan, forced to martyr themselves or apostatize. In the same way, in Foreign Studies (1989), the Japanese cannot survive in the Christian West. The Japanese Christians who appear in these stories are alienated from Japan, the Christian West, and even themselves. The struggle between defiance and cowardice, martyrdom and apostasy, consume these earlier works, and the reader is left with very little hope that faith can survive. However, as Endo's faith took root, the characters in his fiction began to embrace their faith. More Christlike characters appear who love even in the face of rejection and betrayal, as seen in Obaka-san (1959; Wonderful Fool). Endo began to express a Christ with compassion for the sinful and weak, a maternal Christianity with the focus on forgiveness. His portrayal of this more maternal aspect of Christianity made it more understandable to an Eastern audience and more compatible with Japanese culture. Endo said that he used short stories to work out an idea or theme which he later intended to develop into a novel, and the seeds of many of his novels can be found in his short fiction.

Endo is perhaps the most popular Japanese writer in the West, and many critics theorize that it is his Christianity that makes his work more accessible to the Western reader. Many reviewers assert that the issues of cultural conflict prevalent in his fiction are universal themes which make his work powerful and substantive. Endo has been praised as courageous in addressing questions of faith and sin in his work, in which his delicate, understated style and his infusion of humor prevent his moralizing from becoming off-putting to the reader.

Principal Works

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Shiroihito [White Man] (novel) 1955
Umi to Dokuyaku [The Sea and Poison] (novel) 1958
Kazan [Volcano] (novel) 1959
Obaka-san [Wonderful Fool] (novel) 1959
Chinmoku [Silence] (novel) 1966
Seisho no Naka no Joseitachi (essays) 1968
Bara no Yakat (play) 1969
Ougon no Ku [The Golden Country] (play) 1969
Iesu no shogai [A Life of Jesus] 1973
France no daigakusei (essays) 1974
Kuchibue o fuku toki [When I Whistle] (novel) 1974
Yumoa shosetsu shu (short stories) 1974
Seisho no naka no joseitachi (essays) 1975
Kitsunegata tanukigata (short stories) 1976
Watakusi no Iesu 1976
Watashi ga suteta onna 1976
Yukiaru kotoba (essays) 1976
Nihonjin wa Kirisuto kyo o shinjirareru ka 1977
Kare no ikikata 1978
Kirisuto no tanjo 1978
Ningen no naka no X (essays) 1978
Rakuten taisho 1978
Usaba kagero nikki 1978
Ju to jujika (biography) 1979
Juichi no iro-garasu [Stained Glass Elegies] (short stories) 1979
Marie Antoinette (fiction) 1979
Shinran 1979
Chichioya 1980
Endo Shusaku ni yoru Endo Shusaku 1980
Kekkonron 1980
Sakka no nikki (diary excerpts) 1980
Samurai [The Samurai] (novel) 1980
Tenshi 1980
Ai to jinsei o meguru danso 1981
Meiga Iesu junrei 1981
Okuku e no michi 1981
Onna no issho [The Life of a Woman] (fiction) 1982
Endo Shusaku to Knagaeru 1982
Fuyu no yasashisa 1982
Scandal (novel) 1988
Foreign Studies (short stories) 1989
The Final Martyrs (short stories) 1993
Deep River (novel) 1994

Interview

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William Johnston with Shusako Endo (interview date 19 November 1994)

SOURCE: "Endo and Johnston Talk of Buddhism and Christianity," in America, Vol. 171, No. 16, November 19, 1994, pp. 18-20.

[In the following interview Endo and Johnston discuss the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity.]

[Shusaku Endo:] Are you still interested in Buddhism, Father?

[William Johnston, S.J.:] Yes, of course. I don't think I'll ever lose my interest in Buddhism.

What aspect of Buddhism interests you most?

The meeting of Buddhism and Christianity. The dialogue. Aren't you interested in that?

I certainly am. In Europe and America scholarly studies of Japanese Buddhism keep appearing….

Dialogue is the great discovery of the 20th century. Dialogue between nations, dialogue between capital and labor, dialogue between husband and wife—and dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity.

Little by little the dialogue is getting under way. A while ago in Sophia University I heard Buddhist monks chanting the sutras during Mass instead of Gregorian chant. If that had happened 20 or 30 years ago, there would have been an awful rumpus. But tell me, when did you first get interested in Buddhism? Was it before the Second Vatican Council?

Yes. The pioneer was Father Lassalle [Enomiya Lassalle, S.J.]. He influenced me a lot.

He built the Zen center outside Tokyo. But apart from Lassalle there wasn't much interest before the council. What makes people interested in Buddhism today?

Meditation is highly developed in Buddhism and modern people are looking for meditation. Often they don't find it in their own religion.

But when Lassalle began, it must have seemed heretical for Christians to practice Buddhist forms of meditation.

Not heretical, but progressive.

But what did the other missionaries think? I suppose they were indifferent. Or did they not think it was dangerous?

Some considered it dangerous. But aren't modern people attracted by danger? Don't they like risk?

[Laughing] There was a stage in the Japanese church when we thought we had to avoid all risks. But you seem to have done away with that idea. Was it because of the Second Vatican Council?

Of course. But you yourself are known for your interest in inculturation. There can be no inculturation of Christianity in Japan without dialogue with Buddhism.

Yes, but my efforts at inculturation got me into trouble with my fellow Catholics. [Laughing] You seem to have escaped. I wonder why…. Anyhow, I'm joking…. Thanks to people like you, we can talk freely about dialogue with Buddhism. In fact Japanese Catholics are now very happy with the idea. I have no doubt that dialogue is a very fine thing. But it has its limits. After all, when we Christians talk to Buddhists and learn from them, we must know where to draw the line. I would like to hear something about that.

Yes….

There are vast differences between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism talks about abandoning the self. It talks about getting rid of all attachments and it even claims that love is a form of attachment. We can never say that. Moreover, the Buddhist approach to evil is quite different from ours. Then there is the question of reincarnation versus resurrection. Again, Buddhists claim that the Buddha is working dynamically at the core of our being, and we say that the Holy Spirit is working at the core of our being. Are we saying the same thing or are we saying different things? There are endless questions.

Yet I believe that you yourself have the basic answer. When I was in the United States a few years ago I heard a Catholic priest say that the interesting thing about Endo is that he is fascinated with the person of Christ. He is always talking about Christ, struggling with Christ, trying to understand Christ, experiencing the presence of Christ. Now it seems to me that the main thing for a Christian in dialogue with Buddhism is a deep commitment to Christ and the Gospel. If this is present, other problems will solve themselves. Besides, when we come to dialogue, we must distinguish between Christianity as a living faith and Christianity as theology. The living faith is expressed in the prayer and worship of the people who say, "Our Father, who art in heaven" or recite the Jesus prayer. This does not change. Theology, on the other hand, is reflection on religion at a given time and in a given culture. It changes from culture to culture and from age to age, as we have seen so dramatically in the 20th century. Our task at present is to create an Asian theology.

I agree with that completely. Theology has been based on Western thought patterns for too long. We Japanese were taught that it was dangerous to depart from them. That was good medicine, but like all good medicine it had unpleasant side effects. But, as you say, if our commitment to Christ is firm other problems will be solved. But in the West, particularly in California, people are fascinated by oriental thought. They are interested in Zen, in esoteric Buddhism and in the Buddhist description of the Great Source of Life. When I read their books I see little commitment to Christ. They are creating sects that have little in common with Buddhism or Christianity or Islam … something that transcends the traditional religions. But I suppose the main influence is from Buddhism. Aren't people in Europe and America drawn to these sects because they are tired of traditional Christian thinking? Haven't they had enough of Aristotelian ethics and Aristotelian logic? And so they are attracted to Buddhism.

But let me return to the theological difficulties. I spoke about the vast differences between Buddhism and Christianity, and I would like to hear more about that.

At this point in history I don't think I can answer all those questions. I don't think anyone can. It will take time. Dialogue is a process and we are at the beginning. Looking back in history we now see that Christianity has been in dialogue since its inception. Jesus was a Jew. He spoke like a Jew, thought like a Jew and acted like a Jew. Christianity was at first seen as a Jewish sect. The person who brought it into the Greek world and initiated the first great dialogue was St. Paul. Then in the 13th century, when Aristotle was introduced into Europe, Aquinas initiated a dialogue that resulted in a Thomism that dominated Catholic theology until the Second Vatican Council. Now, even as we speak, Christianity is in the process of extracting itself from one culture and becoming incarnate in another. The new culture is deeply influenced by Asian religions and the work of dialogue is only the beginning.

It seems to me that Buddhism and Christianity have in common the belief that what Buddhists call the Great Source of Life and what we call the Holy Spirit dwells within us and surrounds us. Yet there are differences in the two religions and these differences must be made clear: otherwise something fundamental might be lost.

We must rely on the Holy Spirit. Any Christian who would enter deeply into dialogue must have true Christian experience—contemplative or mystical experience. Otherwise he or she will have nothing to offer. Besides, Buddhism is a very fascinating religion. Roughly, there are two kinds of dialogue. One is the interior dialogue of a person who lives in a new culture, who reads the newspapers, talks to the people, breathes the air. The other dialogue is exterior, where people meet, share ideas, say what they believe and what they practice. They don't force anything on one another but adopt a "take it or leave it" attitude. For example, Christians are now learning the role of the body in meditation. They are learning to sit in the lotus, to regulate the breathing, to enter into unitive silence, to get a glimpse of oriental wisdom. To what extent we can imbibe Buddhist philosophy is not yet clear.

I think you have practiced some Zen. You know that when one sits in silence for some time the unconscious begins to surface and one can come into considerable turmoil. Eventually one is liberated ("Body and soul have fallen away" they say) and one reaches enlightenment. Now tell me, is there anything like that in Christianity?

Of course. You get this kind of experience in the Christian contemplatives.

But is the experience of the Christian mystics like St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross the same as the Zen experience or is it different?

This is a much debated point. I can only give you my opinion. I believe that mystical experience is conditioned by one's faith. If one believes that God is love and that the Word was made flesh, this will enter into the experience. It certainly enters into the experience of St. John of the Cross, who speaks of the Incarnation at the summit of the mystical life and whose mystical experience is finally Trinitarian. In short, even though profound mystical experience is silent, imageless and ineffable, it has content. The experiences of St. John of the Cross and Zen master Dogen are not the same. To anyone who reads their writings this is obvious. Precisely because they are different, dialogue is meaningful.

I believe that in dialogue with Buddhism we can learn a lot about psychology. From the fifth century Buddhism has been preoccupied with the self, whereas Christianity has spoken principally about the relationship between God and human beings and has put all the emphasis on a God who is outside. In the knowledge of the self, Buddhism has made much more progress. Take, for instance, psychoanalysis. Buddhism has been practicing it since the fifth century. Whether one can precisely call it psychoanalysis I am not sure. Anyhow, Buddhism has seen layers of consciousness in the human psyche, and in the area of psychology it is far in advance of Christianity. When it comes to Zen, however, I have no experience. I am just a theoretician talking out of my head.

Neither do I practice Zen. Perhaps it could be said that I practice a Christian contemplation with some influence from Zen. Throughout Japan now there are people—mainly priests and sisters—who sit silently in Zen style before the Blessed Sacrament, regulating their breathing and stilling their mind. They are not practicing Zen, but perhaps it could be said that they are practicing a Zen influenced Christian contemplation. Of course there are others, though not many, who have practiced pure Zen under the direction of a Buddhist master.

But you have written books about Zen.

I would prefer to say that I have written books about Christian contemplation, with the Zen Christian dialogue in the background.

Tell me, what kind of letters do you get from your readers?

I sometimes get letters asking questions about Zen and Christianity. People in the West often ask where they can find a Christian Zen master or they ask me to recommend a place in which they can practice Christian Zen. It is difficult to give answers. I sometimes say that we are pioneers in this whole area. We are still groping and trying to find our way.

Always I come back to the same question. The Great Source of Life—what are we to call it? Do we call it the Christ or the Buddha? That is the central question.

If I am a Christian, it is because of Jesus Christ. I already spoke about the centrality of the commitment to Christ. Let me tell you something that illustrates the point. When I translated your novel Silence—you remember it was a controversial book because you seemed to sympathize with the Portuguese priest who apostatized by stepping on the crucifix. Well, after I translated that book I got a letter from a contemplative nun in the United States. She said that for her Silence was a novel about prayer. Prayer, she said, is a struggle with Christ. Magdalene struggled with Christ and then surrendered. Likewise, Peter denied Christ and then surrendered. Then there was Thomas and, of course, St. Paul. They all had their struggles before they made their commitment. Similarly the hero of Silence struggled with Christ. He never lost his faith but made a deep commitment.

Yes, you told me about that sister's letter many years ago, and I never forgot it. In fact, what she wrote about prayer being struggle influenced a novel I wrote subsequently, called The Life of a Woman (Onna no Issho). In this novel a girl is in love with a Nagasaki Christian boy who has a great love for the Virgin Mary. The girl becomes very jealous of Mary and says to her: "I hate you! I hate you! You have stolen my lover." In the end she dies peacefully before a statue of Mary. But her prayer was one of struggle. She could never have said, "I hate you" if she had no faith. Hatred can always change to love. When one can say to God, "I hate you," it is like saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" With these words authentic prayer begins. So I was impressed by that sister's comments. If ever you meet her, tell her that Endo is terribly pleased with what she wrote and sends his gratitude.

Obituaries

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Sonni Efron (essay date 30 September 1996)

SOURCE: "Shusaku Endo; Japanese Novelist, Humorist," in Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1996, p. A22.

[In the following essay, Efron gives a brief overview of Endo's life and career.]

Shusaku Endo, the Roman Catholic novelist who has been called the Japanese Graham Greene, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 73.

Endo was one of Japan's most acclaimed novelists and had a wide international following. He won nearly every major Japanese literary award, had at least nine books translated into English and other languages, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for literature.

Endo was both a novelist and a humorist. The book for which he is best known in the West—Chinmoku, published under the English title Silence in 1969—deals with Japanese Christians in 17th century Nagasaki, and the problems of faith and apostasy.

The book, which seemed to argue that Christianity would have to change radically if it were to put down deep roots in Japan, was a sensation here. It prompted wide debate and some outrage among Japanese Christians, and won Endo the Tanizaki Prize for literature.

Endo was born in Tokyo in 1923, but his family moved to Manchuria when he was a child. Although his mother was a devout Catholic, his parents divorced and he returned to Japan in 1933 to attend elementary and high school in Kobe. He was baptized a Catholic at age 12.

Poor health kept Endo from serving in the military during World War II. He was admitted to Keio University on his fourth try after failing the famous college's entrance exam three times. He majored in French literature and in 1950 won a Catholic scholarship to University of Lyon in France. Endo returned to Japan to become a novelist. In 1955 he won Japan's prestigious Akutagawa Prize for Shiroi Hito (White Man).

In 1957, he published Umi no Dokuyaku, (The Sea and Poison), in which he wrote about Japanese doctors vivisecting a captured American pilot. The book was a searing condemnation of the Japanese lack of moral conscience, a theme that Endo continued to explore.

Critic Jun Eto wrote that Endo's work was notable for the lack of a father figure, commenting that "his Jesus is a mother-like figure." Endo frequently said he wanted to create the image of a compassionate, forgiving Christ whom Japanese could more easily embrace.

Endo often said he was writing literature, not theology, but his works explored the problems the writer had in coming to terms with his foreign religion.

Father William Johnson, who translated Silence, wrote of the author's conflict between "his Japanese sensibility and the Hellenistic Christianity that had been given to him."

Endo wrote: "This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood … has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility.

"Even this attempt is the occasion of much resistance and anguish and pain. No doubt this is the peculiar cross that God has given to the Japanese."

Endo had an older brother who excelled at everything and left the writer with an enduring sense of inferiority but also a sense of humor and compassion, the Nikkei Shimbun newspaper commented in today's editions.

"His works reflect the viewpoint of the weak and the inferior," the paper wrote. "In that sense, they can be seen as a literature of love."

Endo's best selling Deep River, published in 1993, was made into a movie that was released this year. Among the other works that have been translated into English are Scandal, Wonderful Fool, Final Martyrs and Samurai.

Endo died Sunday of respiratory failure after having been in and out of the hospital since last spring. He is survived by his wife, Junko, and son, Ryunosuke.

Eric Page (essay date 30 September 1996)

SOURCE: "Shusaku Endo Is Dead at 73; Japanese Catholic Novelist," in The New York Times, September 30, 1996, p. B8.

[In the following essay, Page gives a brief overview of Endo's career and the themes that consumed his work.]

Shusaku Endo, a leading Japanese novelist who wrote about faith and faithlessness, East and West, heritage and modernity, died yesterday at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo. He was 73 and lived in Tokyo.

The cause was complications of hepatitis, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Endo was born in Tokyo and grew up partly in China. When he was 11, a Roman Catholic aunt persuaded him to be baptized. After World War II, during which ill health kept him out of the fighting, he attended Keio University and went to Lyons, France, to study French Catholic authors' writing. In time he was called modern Japan's most distinguished Catholic novelist.

The British novelist Graham Greene, also a Catholic, hailed him as "one of the finest living novelists." Mr. Endo was considered a contender for the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, but it went to another Japanese writer, Kenzaburo Oe.

Mr. Endo also wrote plays on religious themes, was a humorist and won numerous important literary prizes in Japan.

His novel Deep River accompanies soulless modern Japanese voyagers to the Ganges River in India, where they come to know the humanity and the sufferings of some who have faith. His writing in that work was praised by the psychiatrist Robert Coles, in a review in The New York Times Book Review, as "a soulful gift to a world he keeps rendering as unrelievedly parched."

Appraisals of the role of Christianity in Mr. Endo's writing have differed. Dr. Coles noted that in an epigraph to Deep River, Mr. Endo "by implication dismisses those critics who have made much of his relatively unusual situation as a Christian intellectual living in a nation far from the West."

But the British critic John Gross wrote in 1988 that with Mr. Endo, as with the Japanese author who is the hero of the Endo novel Scandal, "his Catholicism colors everything he writes."

In that book, the hero goes on a quest in the red light district of Tokyo, seeking to learn how a lewd portrait of him (or of a Doppelganger) was put on exhibition. He comes to conclude that "deep in the hearts of men lay a blackness they themselves knew nothing about." Mr. Gross wrote that he found the book "extremely gripping."

Over the years, critics repeatedly said Mr. Endo was the Japanese author whose works were the most comprehensible to readers in the West, possibly because his Catholicism brought Western traditions to bear on his thinking.

His novel Silence was about a young Portuguese missionary in the time of the persecution of Japanese Christians early in the 17th century. The novelist John Updike has called that book "somber, delicate and startlingly empathetic."

Mr. Endo is survived by his wife, Junko, and a son, Ryunosuke.

Overviews

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Francis Mathy (essay date 8 August 1992)

SOURCE: "Shusaku Endo: Japanese Catholic Novelist," in America, Vol. 167, No. 3, August 8, 1992, pp. 66-71.

[In the following essay, Mathy traces the relationship between Christianity and Endo's work throughout his career.]

Shusako Endo, the 1989 winner of the Champion Award, conferred each year on a distinguished Christian person of letters by the editors of the Catholic Book Club, a subsidiary of America Press, is duly recognized both in Japan and abroad as a "Catholic novelist." The award citation carefully avoided this phrase and stated merely that "his Roman Catholic heritage has charged his artistic sensibilities with a vision and power rarely seen in contemporary writers of whatever nationality." Born in Tokyo in 1923, Endo subsequently lived with his Catholic aunt in Kobe after his parents divorced when he was 10. Under his aunt's influence, young Shusaku was enrolled in a children's catechism class. With little preparation, he was eventually baptized. In later years, he compared this event to being outfitted in an ill fitting suit of Western clothes, and characterized his literary career as a lifelong attempt to convert these clothes into Japanese dress in which he could feel at ease.

Endo was not a particularly good student and had difficulty getting into college, but on his third try he was admitted into Keio University, where he decided to study French literature. While at Keio he became interested in the modern French novel, especially the novels of Francois Mauriac and George Bernanos. In his junior year of college, he wrote and managed to get published in reputable journals two critical essays, which, he says, "introduced the themes that would later occupy me in my novels." In the following two years, another 10 articles were accepted for publication. In 1950, at the age of 27, he was given the opportunity to study in Lyons, France. For a little more than two years he made an intensive study of French Catholic writers, especially Mauriac, but his study was interrupted when he came down with tuberculosis and had to return to Japan.

Back on native soil, he soon recovered sufficiently to write his first novel, White Man, for which he received the Akutagawa Prize, awarded to promising new writers. Yellow Man followed, and then The Sea and Poison, which won him both the Shincho Literary Award and the Mainichi Cultural Award. Endo's career as a writer was now established, and succeeding works brought him not only critical acclaim but also an enthusiastic readership. From the beginning, Endo followed the longstanding custom of Japanese writers—of dashing off, in the intervals between more serious works, light "entertainments," which are usually serialized in newspapers or magazines. In the case of Endo, the plots and themes of these "newspaper novels" counterpoint those of his more serious works, and despite the speed and casualness with which they were written, many readers, and even some critics, consider these—and Wonderful Fool is a good example—his best work.

Endo has always been a prolific writer. In the 38 years of his literary career, he has written on the average one full length novel a year. He has also published several plays, about a dozen volumes of short stories, a number of critical biographies and innumerable essays on a wide variety of subjects. In addition to the novels mentioned above, his principal novels are Volcano (1959), The Woman I Abandoned (1964), And You, Too (Part Three in the English translation Foreign Studies, 1965), Silence (1966), On the Shore of the Dead Sea (1973), When I Whistle (1974), Samurai (1980), Life of a Woman (1982), Scandal (1986) and First Lady (1988). His three major plays are The Golden Country (1966), The House of Roses (1969) and The Japanese of the Menam River (1973). His principal nonfiction works include A Life of Jesus (1973) and The Birth of the Christ (1978); the collections of critical essays entitled Religion and Literature (1963) and Stones Speak (1970), and three biographies—of the Christian daimio Yukinaga Konishi (1977), the Japanese Jesuit martyr Peter Kibe (1979), and the commander of the Japanese colony in 17th-century Siam, Nagamasa Yamada (1981).

In addition, Endo has a weekly newspaper column, writes articles for many magazines and journals and makes frequent appearances on television. For a year he was host interviewing prominent religious thinkers and leaders on NHK's weekly "Religion Hour." Many of his stories have been made into movies and television dramas. Endo, a member of myriad literary committees and a past president of the Japanese P.E.N. Club, has himself received many awards, including the Order of St. Sylvester, conferred upon him in 1971 by Pope Paul VI. In the United States, he has been awarded honorary doctorates by Santa Clara University, Georgetown and John Carroll. The two essays Endo wrote as a university student did, as he says, introduce the themes that would occupy him in his novels. In his essay "God and Gods," Endo states that there is so great a gulf between the Western monotheistic world and the Eastern pantheistic world that neither the Eastern nor the Western writer can borrow successfully from the other. He cites as examples Rilke and Tatsuo Hori, his admirer and imitator in Japan.

Though both affirmed the same pantheistic universe, there is an unbridgeable gulf between them. Rilke for all his avowed pantheism is heir to a worldview according to which mankind is forever fixed in its grade of being. A person can become neither angel nor bird; he or she must fight with the angels and subdue nature. Men and women must always engage in positive actions. Hori, however, inherits a world view in which individual human beings are part of a whole in which there are no distinctions as to grades of being and therefore no need to fight. For Hori, the passage into the eternal occurs naturally without any struggle. A Christian, on the other hand, whose return to God is not passive, rejects pantheism. Thus, a Christian has always to fight, against himself, against sin, against the devil—even, like Jacob, against God. When Japanese read literature rooted in such a worldview, something in their pantheistic blood rebels and they feel great antagonism.

In a second essay, "The Problems of a Catholic Writer," Endo states that the Catholic writer must go beyond the physical and psychological depiction of his characters to reveal the hidden traces of God in their souls. Such a writer must journey to that hidden center of each person in which the saving love of God is at work, even in those who have fallen into terrible sin. But such a writer must also witness to the light that is beyond the sin and evil, which purifies and sanctifies the sinner. In Mauriac's novels, for example, the dark shadow of sin that falls over his characters is encircled by a faint light that can also be seen in Rembrandt's paintings. The Catholic writer can only hope that this light will enter his work; he or she cannot make it do so. Characters in a novel are free and cannot be coerced. Mauriac was finally unable to portray Therese Desqueyroux as saved. In such a case, all the Catholic novelist can do is depict the terrifying misery of a person without God.

Early in his career, Endo realized the great responsibility the Catholic writer must assume, while at the same time he experienced within himself the passive attitude toward salvation that characterizes Eastern pantheism. He saw that almost all the Christian writers of Japan who preceded him had, in the end, succumbed to pantheism and abandoned their Christian faith. One of the reasons for this, he thought, was that they had not been sufficiently aware of the immensity of the chasm that separated the two sensibilities, and so the first chore he set himself as a novelist was to "take our Eastern world without a Supreme Being and contrast it as vigorously as possible with the Western world, which affirms such a Being." By "vigorously," he meant that he must put aside any philosophy or theology that fosters the delusion that the Eastern and Western worlds are the same. Endo held that the Japanese must not think of the Christian West as being in their cultural stream, nor at the same time are they to hold it off at a respectful distance.

In his novels, Endo sets out to dramatize this dilemma: to present as vigorously as possible the Japanese world without distinctions and boundaries, a world that is, as he states in another essay, insensitive to God, sin and even to death. The next step is to contrast this world with the world of the Christian West. When one reads Endo's works in their chronological order, it is clear that there is a twofold progression in them.

First, there is a progression in the dialectic between East and West, as depicted in the early novels, where Japan is portrayed as a swampland in which everything foreign, including Christianity, is swallowed up or transformed. The Japanese who try to survive out of their native soil seem doomed to perish. Yet, in succeeding novels, Christianity gradually comes not only to survive but even to triumph. Second, Endo's fictions, despite the rich invention and occasional exoticism that characterize them, belong to the stream of the confessional literature—the watakushi shosetsu (the "I" novel)—that has long dominated Japanese literature. The hero, or at least one of the principal characters, is never far removed from Endo himself. The very situations and experiences that Endo records in his nonfiction appear with a minimum of disguise in his stories. And the faith of this character can be seen growing from work to work.

Initially, the Japanese swampland prevents any growth or faith in Endo's fictional characters. In Yellow Man, for example, the French missionary Durand abandons his priesthood to marry a Japanese, while his fellow priest, Father Brou, fails in his ministry. Chiba, a student who resembles Endo himself, tells Brou that a yellow man has absolutely no consciousness of sin. "All we experience is fatigue, a deep fatigue—weariness as murky as the color of my skin, dank, heavily submerged." Durand, in turn, asks Brou if he really believes his God "can sink roots into this wet soil, into this yellow race." In Volcano, a companion piece to Yellow Man, the foreign priest not only defects, but turns tempter and tries to get others to give up their faith. In the end, he commits suicide. The only optimistic note in these two novels comes from Father Brou's statement that the Japanese gods will be conquered: "Christianity will swallow up this pagan pantheism in another miracle of Cana."

Just as the Christian Westerner does not fare well in the Japanese swampland, the Japanese finds it equally difficult to survive in the Christian West. The hero of And You, Too arrives in France wanting nothing more from life than peace and security—and promotion when he returns to his college. His term of study in France, which should have been the quickest route toward advancement, turns out to be just the opposite. Contact with Western culture makes him completely dissatisfied with his ideal of "ordinary happiness," and almost makes him despair of achieving anything greater. He is shattered by his experience and returns to Japan broken in body and spirit, convinced that it is as impossible to assimilate Western culture as it is to receive blood from someone who has a different blood type.

Silence, at first glance, might seem to be as pessimistic about the ability of the Japanese to assimilate either Western culture or Christianity as in the previous novels. Father Ferreira, the former Jesuit provincial superior, now turned apostate, tries to convince the younger missionary Roderigo to do as he did—that is, to step on the fumi-e [a small plaque picturing the face of Christ] and reject his faith. His arguments are clear cut: The Japanese are unable to become Christians, and they have transformed the Christian God into a good of their own making. "The Japanese have no notion of God and never will have…. The seedlings which we brought to this country eventually began to rot in this mudswamp called Japan." But, for the first time, there appears an element of hope. When the young missionary is about to step on the fumi-e, God's silence is finally broken. Roderigo hears him say, "Go ahead and step on it." and he realizes that even in his sin God will not abandon him.

Gradually, Christlike characters begin to appear in Endo's fiction. They continue to love even when their love is rejected or abused. These are wonderful fools, like Gaston in the novel of that title; Mitchan, in The Woman I Abandoned; the Baron, escaped from an insane asylum but more sane than the swamp dwellers, in One, Two, Three, and Brother Houssin in the play The House of Roses. Through the power of love, these characters are able, in varying degrees, to lift others out of the swamp and help them realize their better selves. In Wonderful Fool, Gaston not only rescues the professional killer Endo from drowning in an actual swamp, but even pulls him out of his inner swamp by turning his heart away from revenge. Self sacrificing, trusting, gentle love offered without measure saves the denizens of the swamp and makes them also capable of love—and of action.

A corresponding growth in faith can be found in the 1973 novel On the Shore of the Dead Sea. A middle aged Japanese novelist, similar to Endo in almost all respects, journeys to Israel in search of the answer to the question, "What do you think of Christ?" What he learns there concerning the final moments of Rat, a completely self centered, cowardly, physically and spiritually unattractive Pole who is executed by the Nazis, convinces him that he himself is loved by Jesus and will never be abandoned by Him.

The Jesus Endo depicts in alternate chapters of this novel and in his A Life of Jesus, which was published in the same year, is a person to whom a yellow man can relate. This Jesus lacks the power that the Japanese find so intimidating and difficult to accept. (Endo rejects all of Jesus' miracles.) Rather, Endo's Jesus is a man with tired sunken eyes that emit a sad radiance. "He was the man who could accomplish nothing, the man who possessed no power in this visible world…. He was never known to desert other people if they had trouble…. And with regard to those who deserted him, those who betrayed him, not a word of resentment came to his lips. No matter what happened, he was the man of sorrows, and he prayed for nothing but their salvation."

Endo next attempted to come to terms with the power of the Resurrected Christ in The Birth of the Christ, and was able finally to depict Japanese characters who were triumphant in their faith. The most interesting of these is the 17th-century Japanese Jesuit Peter Kibe, who, unable to enter a seminary either in Japan or Macao, traveled by an overland route to Rome—the first Japanese ever to do so—where he entered a seminary, was ordained a priest, became a Jesuit and, though he knew he would eventually be captured and killed after a long odyssey involving him in many adventures, returned to Japan to minister to the persecuted Christians. Eventually he was apprehended and subjected to the same horrible torture that Ferreira underwent, but, unlike the latter, he persevered to a martyr's death. Endo was so fascinated by Kibe that he wrote a biography of him, The Rifle and the Cross (a very strange kind of biography that tells us as much about Endo as it does about Kibe), made him one of the two central characters in his play The Japanese of the Menam River and featured him, once again, in his biography of Nagamasa Yamada, entitled The Road to a Kingdom.

The next novel, Samurai, is in a sense, a step backward. The samurai of the title is sent as an emissary to Mexico to try to establish trade relations with the Mexicans. Though he lacks faith, he receives baptism as a political expedient to help achieve his end. But when he returns to Japan, he finds that the climate has changed. The authorities apprehend him and condemn him to death for being a Christian. Though still without faith, he is haunted by the face of the sad man he saw hanging on the cross in all the lands through which he traveled. His servant Yozo, who has become a Christian, speaks words to his master that once again depict Endo's Jesus: "I suppose that somewhere in the hearts of men, there's a yearning for someone who will be with you throughout your life, someone who will never betray you, never leave you—even if that someone is just a sick, mangy dog. That man became just such a miserable dog for the sake of mankind." The samurai goes to his death with the words of Yozo ringing in his ears: "From now on he will be beside you. From now on he will attend you." He becomes a martyr in spite of himself. In this novel, a Western Franciscan missionary, a counterpart of Ferreira, is allowed to die a heroic martyr. This proud and powerful friar repents of his sins and goes bravely to his death at the stake. The yellow man and the white man each finds God in his own way.

A fitting climax to the various depictions of martyrdom that has preoccupied the later Endo takes place in The Life of a Woman. The weak who give up their faith under torture continue to experience God's love even after their defection. As expected, the strong who avail themselves of God's grace remain faithful to the end, in spite of the great suffering they are made to endure. Endo even goes so far as to show that those who persevere in loving Christ have the power to convert their enemies.

Endo has been influenced by Graham Greene, as seen most clearly in Silence. Unlike Greene, however, Endo does not see Christ as an outsider, intervening with "special actions." Endo's Christ is always present to Endo's characters, accompanying them wherever they go, even to and from the places of sin.

Through his writings, Endo has been a great apostolic force in Japan. Not only has he helped a large number of his fellow writers and intellectuals to find their way into the church, but his books and his public persona have undoubtedly changed the image of Catholicism in Japan and made it easier for the average Japanese to approach it. Quite different from Greene, Mauriac, Bernanos and Walker Percy, he reflects the climate of Catholicism in Japan, so different from what Westerners expect. But that is matter for another article.

Joseph R. Garber (review date October/November 1994)

SOURCE: "In a State of Sin," in San Francisco Review, Vol. 19, Nos. 4 & 5, October/November, 1994, p. 40.

[In the following review, Garber discusses how Endo works out his themes of sinners struggling with morality in the form of a short story before developing them into a novel. Garber uses the short stories from Endo's collection The Final Martyrs to illustrate his point.]

Western morality is proscriptive, more concerned with what thou shalt not do than with what thou shouldst. In Japan things are different; morals are shaped by a sense of duty; honor and obligation take pride of precedence; and virtuous behavior has little to do with the dictates of those who claim to speak for God.

Therein lies the dilemma that haunts Shusako Endo, the most respected of living Japanese authors. Endo is a Roman Catholic, a devout member of a minority sect whose members were, until the 1870s, hunted, tortured, and butchered with unimaginable ferocity—because in worshipping a pale Western deity they denied the supreme godhead of their emperor, thus violating their duty and falling, by Japanese lights, into a state of sin.

The Final Martyrs, the latest of Endo's books to be published in this country, collects eleven short stories spanning most of the writer's lengthy career. They remind us how central Endo's anguish at the gap between Christian and Shinto senses of good and evil is to all his work. The title story of the collection tells the tale of nineteenth century Catholic villagers brutalized for their beliefs. One villager, the weakest, crumbles under torture. He apostatizes, only to find himself cursed by the double sin of first having failed in his duty to the state, and then having failed his duty to God. The apostate, torn by guilt, resents both God and society for presenting him with a moral puzzle that he cannot hope to solve. "What can a coward like me do?" he thinks. "Why was I born to such a fate?" In the end, damned regardless of his decision, he presents himself before the stockade in which his few surviving fellow friends are held captive. If neither God nor government can forgive him, perhaps they will.

Endo wrote this particular tale in 1959. He has returned to its theme many times since, most notably in his searing novel, Silence. So too has he returned to the themes of the other stories collected in The Final Martyrs. It is, as he admits in his introduction, his habit to work out plot and characterization in short story form long before committing them to a novel. Thus, for the reader familiar with Endo's works, The Final Martyrs is a fascinating study of how the writer's mind works.

For example, two stories lay the groundwork for Endo's most recent novel, Deep River, yet unpublished in the United States. The first, "A Fifty Year Old Man," tells of a character whose younger brother is unexpectedly stricken with what promises to be a lethal disease. Then, nearly miraculously, the brother recovers. As he does so, the protagonist finds that his dog, dearly beloved and loyal, has died. Was the death owed? Did the dog accept it, and take upon itself the sin and guilt of its master? One does not know. Endo is not yet certain, and will not say.

"A Fifty Year Old Man" was written in 1976. Eight years later Endo revisited it in "Last Supper." Now a character lies in a hospital ward dying of much the same disease as afflicted the brother in "A Fifty Year Old Man." The character's sole hope of survival is to stop drinking, but he will not stop; the ghosts of the past will not let him. During World War II, in the jungles of Burma, he committed a terrible sin. Only liquor lets him forget. And rather than confront his memories, the man would much prefer to die.

Finally, in the novel Deep River, the two plots, themes, and characters are fused. The dog becomes a Myna bird, and, yes, the pet accepts the fate intended for its master. Over the course of two pieces of short fiction, one novel, and fifteen years, Shusako Endo has worked and reworked his material, finally bringing to perfection an already exquisite narrative.

The best two stories collected in The Final Martyrs are, perhaps, autobiographical. In one, the first person narrator, a sixty year old Catholic author writing a life of Christ, accidentally meets a teenaged temptress in a park. As the two talk, the nymphet hints that she might accommodate a distinguished elderly gentleman, but only one of a generous nature, a well to do writer, for example. A second meeting is arranged for the following week, and the narrator is obliged to confront unpleasant questions of age and youth, duty and sin.

In the second tale, another (or more likely the same) first person narrator finds in an antique store a box containing a worn out Bible, some fifty year old postcards, and an aged photo album. He reads the postcards, is drawn to visit the landscape they portray, and ultimately uncovers ambiguous evidence of uncommon heroism during the second World War. It is a haunting yarn, eerie, and a fine specimen of the short story at its very best.

And yet, it is not finished. I am sure of that. It contains no fall from grace, no irreconcilable conflict between duty and morality. What it is—what it must be—is Shusako Endo taking his first tentative steps on his way to a new novel. But first he must find the sinner, and first he must find the sin. Then, and only then, will he know what the novel is.

Reviews Of Endo's Recent Work

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Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 March 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Foreign Studies, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LVIII, March 1, 1990, p. 288.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that Endo's stories of isolation in Foreign Studies are universal to the problems of communication between different cultures.]

An accomplished piece of writing—as well as an instructive insight into Japanese reactions to Western religion, culture, and the tolls these reactions can exact.

European in setting, except for a brief interlude in Japan, the novel is divided into three complementary sections, which illustrate the theme rather than share any common narrative. In the first part, Kudo, a young Japanese student—a Christian—has come to France, just after the end of WW II, to study on a scholarship provided by the Far Eastern Mission of the Roman Catholic Church. Staying with a French Christian family, Kudo is aware not only of the great gulf between the two cultures but is depressed by these good and well meaning people's implicit wish that he become a priest who will return to Japan to proselytize. In the second section, set in the 17th century, Japanese apostate Araki Thomas, of whom the Church expects great things, is appalled by the brutal persecution of Christians in Japan. Araki feels that the Church in distant Rome, which does not appreciate the tremendous sacrifice Japanese Christians are making, is asking too much of Japanese converts. Tanaka, of the third and longest section, visits France on a research grant. He increasingly feels not only isolated from the French, but from his fellow Japanese in Paris, and doubts whether his projected study of the Marquis de Sade is even possible, given the great gulf he perceives between the two cultures. The futility of the whole experience is further underlined when he has to return prematurely to Japan because he has tuberculosis.

Endo's delineation of isolation, of feeling terribly and irrevocably foreign, is moving and effective, with implications that go beyond the specificity of his Japanese characters to the wider problems of communications between all cultures. A thoughtful and timely book.

Publishers Weekly (review date 30 March 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Foreign Studies, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 237, No. 13, March 30, 1990, p. 50.

[In the following review, the critic discusses the universal truth in Endo's Foreign Studies.]

Elegantly divided into three sections, this 1965 novel by the celebrated Japanese author of Scandal calibrates the dislocation of Easterners transplanted to the West. "A Summer in Rouen," set shortly after WW II, follows the recipient of a church sponsored scholarship that has brought him from Japan to France to study Christian literature; his interest in the West is returned by his well intentioned hosts' paralyzing inability to view him as more than a blank canvas for their own designs. "Araki Thomas" tells of the first Japanese student in Rome, a Christian sent there at the dawn of the 17th century who, realizing that the importation of the foreign religion brings with it certain death, renounces his faith after he returns home, choosing survival for himself and for his people. The themes of these two sections are deepened in "And You, Too," in which an ambitious academic named Tanaka goes to Paris in the 1960s to become an authority on the Marquis de Sade. Despite the presence of a community of Japanese scholars and artists, Tanaka feels as alienated as the hero of "Rouen," "constantly experiencing the sense of distance between himself and [a great] foreign spirit, and keenly aware of his own inferiority." The effort destroys his health; as in "Araki Thomas," the price for integrating the force of a foreign culture is life. Paradoxically, Endo transcends all cultural barriers; far from foreign, his work has the intimacy and the vastness of the universally true.

Rachel Billington (review date 6 May 1990)

SOURCE: "A Long Way from Tokyo," in The New York Times, May 6, 1990, p. 34.

[In the following review, Billington states that Endo's "Foreign Studies does not show Mr. Endo at his most intricate and brilliant, but it adds a further dimension to his later great works."]

Shusaku Endo is a writer who replays a small repertoire of a strong themes. As a Japanese Roman Catholic with a close experience of Europe, he has always found an audience in the West. He writes about the possibility of true understanding between East and West. In a particularization of this theme, he questions the effect and strength of Christianity in an Oriental society. And, in a personalization of the same ideas, he examines the psyche of a Christian and the nature of the unconscious mind in which sin, as defined by a believer, or evil, as defined by someone without faith in redemption, manifests itself. These themes are familiar from his more recent novels, but Mr. Endo was already developing them in the three stories in Foreign Studies, published in Japan in 1965 and now translated by Mark Williams.

In the first story, "A Summer in Rouen," a young Japanese Catholic called Kudo spends the hot summer months in a French provincial town with a strongly Catholic family. It is soon after the war, and the presence of a Japanese is extraordinary. Kudo's hostess views him as the reincarnation of her dead son, Paul, and calls him by that name. Forced to conform or break Japanese and Catholic codes of good behavior, he retreats farther and farther into secret misery. It seems to him there can be no understanding between East and West. The story is descriptive and highly emotional, but somewhat crude in its unvarying tone.

The second story, "Araki Thomas," is set in the same world as that of Mr. Endo's famous later novel Silence. Araki is a Japanese who studies to be a priest in Rome in the 17th century. He returns to Japan during a period when being a Catholic means immediate torture and death. Burdened by the expectations aroused by his stay at the heart of the true faith, he apostatizes soon after his arrest and torture. His fame as a Japanese studying theology in Rome changes into notoriety as the fallen padre. Contact with the West has weakened rather than strengthened the man. "Araki Thomas" is told as if it were historical fact, with no dramatic flourishes. It is impossible that its 12 pages should build up to the power of Silence, but it adds a strand to the overall theme of Foreign Studies.

The final story, "And You, Too," is far more substantial. It will be most interesting to readers of Mr. Endo's latest novel, Scandal, a masterpiece combining the attributes of thriller, moral treatise and philosophical investigation. "And You, Too" does not rise to these heights. Tanaka, a professor of European literature in Japan, goes to France to study the Marquis de Sade in 1965. During winter months of unmitigated gloom, rain and fog in Paris, he meets another Japanese academic who, exhausted by trying to reconcile Eastern and Western values, has succumbed to tuberculosis and is forced to return to Japan. In contrast, Tanaka's life briefly overlaps with that of a group of Japanese who feel no difficulty in assimilating Western values and look forward to using their European experience to advance their careers at home. But the solitary, obstinate Tanaka, like Kudo and Araki, cannot reconcile East and West until, in a brilliantly symbolic scene, he climbs up to Sade's castle near Avignon in the snow. As Tanaka wanders among the ruined rooms, a red stain catches his eye. In his imagination, it was left by Sade, a positive link between himself and that mysterious world. As he stumbles wearily down the hill, he coughs and a blob of red blood falls on the snow. He too must return defeated to Japan.

In many ways Tanaka is a younger version of the 65 year old protagonist of Scandal. Each man feels himself out of touch with the unconscious, "unredeemed" part of his mind. Tanaka hardly lifts the corner of the veil that covers the Marquis de Sade and what he represents, whereas in Scandal the older man, a novelist, feeling the grip of death approaching, tries to understand this side of himself and reconcile it with the outward form he presents to the world.

Ostensibly, Foreign Studies tackles the vast separation between East and West, but there are constant undertones of this more personal theme. The hardest problem for Christian creative artists is to avoid imposing their moral code on their characters. In an introduction to Foreign Studies, Mr. Endo describes the change in his point of view over the last 20 years: "As a result of continuous consideration of the concept of 'the unconscious' in my literature, I am now convinced that meaningful communication between East and West is possible. I have gradually come to realize that, despite the mutual distance and the cultural and linguistic differences that clearly exist in the conscious sphere, the two hold much in common at the unconscious level."

Everything Shusaku Endo writes is worth reading—as good literature (although I find it difficult to judge his style, which seems to vary according to translator) but, more importantly, for his exploration of human nature. As the novelist in Scandal says (before suffering from horrifying self-doubt): "The most important thing is to write about humanity…. To probe into the uttermost reaches of humanity—that, I think, is [the writer's] ultimate duty." Foreign Studies does not show Mr. Endo at his most intricate and brilliant, but it adds a further dimension to his later great works.

John B. Breslin (review date 6 May 1990)

SOURCE: "Pilgrim between Two Worlds," in Book World—The Washington Post, May 6, 1990.

[In the following review, Breslin discusses the relationship between East and West as seen in Endo's Silence and Foreign Studies.]

I had just finished teaching Shusaku Endo's novel Silence in an undergraduate course on Catholic fiction when Foreign Studies arrived for review. As always, Silence provoked a variety of responses among the students who found its hero, the 16th century Portuguese Jesuit Sebastian Rodrigues, alternately an arrogant Westerner intent on winning glory as a missionary or martyr, and a sympathetic victim of a cruel religious persecution and a culture he little understood. In the end. Rodrigues accepted the judgment that Christianity could not flourish in the "mud swamp" of Japan—a judgment enunciated by his canny inquisitor, Inoue, but clearly shared by the novel's author.

Foreign Studies was originally published in Japan in 1965, a couple of years before Silence. In his preface to this translation, the first in English, Endo describes "And You, Too," the third and by far longest of the stories that make up this book, as "a prelude to Silence." What he means is that his own experience as a foreign student in France after the war, the germ of that story, convinced him that East and West could never really understand one another on the deep level of "culture," only on the relatively superficial level of "civilization." Rodrigues, then, became a European mirror image of the unhappy Tanaka, the alienated Japanese student in Paris who attempts to insinuate himself into the French world of thought and feeling by studying the life and works of the Marquis de Sade. Cruelty in theory for the Japanese student, cruelty in practice for the Portuguese missionary. A nice symmetry.

Curiously, however, there are even stronger parallels with Silence, unmentioned by Endo, in the two brief curtain raisers that introduce "And You, Too." In both instances young Japanese Christians, one a seminarian, find themselves uncomfortably welcome in Europe as exotic specimens of the success of the church's missionary efforts. As such they feel constantly under pressure to live up to their status and beyond their personal convictions. Indeed the 17th century seminarian, Araki Thomas, is confidently expected by his hosts to return to Japan to become a martyr; he becomes an apostate instead. His counterpart, Kudo, comes to Europe three centuries later, like Endo, right after the war, but encounters the same overestimation. It is summer in Rouen, and the oppressive heat Kudo suffers from reflects the naive passion of his hosts for the conversion of his country. Unable to master enough French to explain the subtleties of Japanese culture to these self confident French Catholics, Kudo silences his objections and accepts his uneasy situation.

In "And You, Too" Tanaka has no such theological problems to deal with in Paris in the mid 1960s. His are entirely cultural and psychological. But the underlying dilemma of cultural incomprehension remains, heightened for him by doubts about the value of his profession as a student of foreign literature and about his status in his own university in Japan. Early in the story, Tanaka engages in a heated exchange with his fellow Japanese expatriates. Mocked by a mediocre novelist for being a detached critic rather than an engaged artist, Tanaka responds: "The world is full of writers, but the only time they justify their existence is when they create a masterpiece." If that weren't provocative enough, he confirms his countrymen's deepest suspicions when he awards the palm to French writers and critics as unquestionably superior to the Japanese. And all this on his first night in Paris.

Shunned and shunning, Tanaka becomes ever more isolated in his attempt to penetrate French culture through the writing of Sade. His one Japanese friend, the failed architecture student Sakisaka, takes him to his favorite museum filled with skillful reproductions of cathedral statuary arranged in chronological order. Sakisaka is ill and knows he will have to return to Japan an apparent failure, but he wants Tanaka to be drawn into what he has experienced in this "insignificant little museum"—"the great flow of European history spanning all those centuries." In ominous words, he spells out for Tanaka the cost of such discipleship: "In order to enter that great flow, we foreign students have to pay some sort of price. I've paid for it with my health."

After Sakisaka leaves Paris, Tanaka occasionally returns to the museum, but his special shrine becomes Sade's ruined castle at LaCoste and other sites connected with the master. At each of these, Tanaka feels moved to a kind of giddy sexual ecstasy which he promptly subdues but recognizes as "the most real" part of himself. Near the end of the story, as he becomes aware that he, too, is ill, Tanaka climbs through the snow to the ruins of LaCoste: "Like a blind man groping in the dark, Tanaka passed his frozen hands over the remains of the walls and windows. He just wanted to touch and squeeze his lips against something that still retained a hint of the fragrance of Sade." He then notices a spot of red on the wall and recognizes it as blood, but of a vividness that calls up the "lips of someone sated with pleasure"—Sade or one of his victims.

But the blood does not long remain merely a sexual symbol. As Tanaka descends the hill he begins to spit up blood on the white snow. Art and life meet here in a disconcerting symbiosis, and the initial sexual identification with Sade turns pathological. Tanaka has paid the same price as Sakisaka and must now face the similar disgrace of returning to Japan with his work incomplete.

Writing a quarter century later Endo admits in his introduction that he now views his former self as "a pitiful younger brother," who did not fully appreciate that "at the unconscious level" East and West have much in common. This seems to imply that, even deeper than "culture," there exists a human dynamic that unites individuals; but, Endo suggests, it is as often demonic as celestial. Tanaka's shadow figure here is Sade, just as, in Endo's most recently translated novel, Scandal, it is a perverse doppelganger who haunts a popular contemporary Japanese novelist. Endo has moved inwards in his quest for the line that divides good and evil, but the awareness of the struggle remains the same. History helps us to localize the conflict, but it deceptively suggests that the forces of evil may be precisely identified. Not so, Endo insists, and offers again and again his own fictionalized story as proof.

Richard Eder (review date 13 May 1990)

SOURCE: "Japan Bitten by Europe," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 13, 1990, pp. 3, 11.

[In the following review, Eder discusses how the stories of Endo's Foreign Studies dramatize the painful relationship between the East and West.]

Who is this Japanese traveler, wearing a beret and thick glasses, standing outside the airline terminal in Paris, drenched by the freezing rain and too wretchedly shy to hail a taxi?

He is Tanaka, that's who. Tanaka: lecturer in literature at the university back home, protege of the powerful Professor Ueda, and owing to this and to his foresight in selecting a specialty not already spoken for (the works of the Marquis de Sade), conqueror of one of those intermediate positions of vantage on the academic chess board: a year or two of research in France.

Tanaka has it made, in other words, or temporarily made. He has bested his fellow players; particularly Suganuma, who is only an assistant, and who has not yet been chosen to come to France but cannot be entirely dismissed, since his mentor, though junior to Tanaka's, may in chess terms be more strategically placed.

Homesick, splashed, bewildered, Tanaka thinks of his colleagues who had gone to Europe to study. "On their return, they made no mention of feelings of shame and self pity when they had spoken of their experiences abroad…. It was as though, from the moment they had arrived in Paris, they had as a matter of course been respected as members of the intelligentsia."

Whereas "The man who now stood at his wit's end in the pouring rain on a Paris street corner with heavy luggage in both hands, totally incapable of hailing a taxi, was not the university lecturer who had left Japan…. What was left of him was like a statue from which the plaster had been ripped off, leaving only an ugly skeleton. But at least, with a statue, the skeleton remains even after the plaster has been torn off."

Tanaka is no misfit sailor run aground on his own timid incompetence. He is the true circumnavigator, sailing nakedly around the world and finding it is flat and you fall off. It is his colleagues who are trimmers, and who survive by never leaving their own shore, even while having aperitifs at the Dome and boasting that Sartre had nodded to them.

Tanaka's story, entitled "And You, Too," is the comic and disquieting is the centerpiece of Foreign Studies. Like its two companion stories, but more profoundly, it is a statement by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo about the pain between East and West. Each, experiencing the other, misappropriates the other.

"And You, Too," novella length, begins by watching Tanaka from the point of view of half a dozen Japanese businessmen at an in flight airport bar at Hamburg. They are Philistines; camera wearers, clinging together and boasting of their prospective exploits with French and German prostitutes. Tanaka, sitting alone, won't join them. Pretentious snob, they figure. Un Japanese.

But there is another kind of Philistinism. Tanaka and his academic colleagues may speak of France as their spiritual home, visit all the right places, read the right books. But these are acquisitions; goods bought at an intellectual duty free shop to be exchanged, once back home, for promotions and prestige.

Tanaka, who finally gets his taxi and registers at a modest hotel, is a would be duty free shopper as well. But something strikes him down. Perhaps it is the fact that his hotel was the house where Proust shut himself up to write and die. Perhaps it comes from following the tracks of Sade—that other artistic extremist—from the prison at Vincennes to the madhouse at Charenton, to the ruined family castle near Avignon. Perhaps it is Sakisaka, the odd, ill compatriot who stays at the same hotel.

Sakisaka, an architect, is in Paris to better his prospects by studying at the Sorbonne. He is a loner, though, pale and distracted. He is a man with snakebite. The snake is European culture. Sakisaka has not merely filled his notebooks with useful sketches of Gothic cathedrals and Baroque palaces. He has filled himself as well. He has experienced what he calls the profound "flow" of the European soul. It has devastated him; he has, not incidentally, caught tuberculosis and will be shipped home.

"But here is the real pain that is all part of the experience of studying abroad," he tells Tanaka. "In order to enter that great flow, we foreign students have to pay some sort of a price…. I've paid for it with my health."

"And You, Too" is a battle for its protagonist's soul. Like most real battles, the results are both devastating and ambiguous. Tanaka tries to hold onto his purposes. He follows avidly his wife's mailed reports of his rival, Suganuma, and is horrified by the news that he too will come to France. He visits the cafe where the Japanese writers and academics hang out—as clannish as the businessmen and, in their own fashion, as crass.

But his heart is not in it. He has caught Sakisaka's illness; figuratively at first, then literally. His entanglement with Sade becomes more and more profound, and finally, on a second visit to his ruined castle, he finds himself spitting blood. He too will have to be shipped home, a failure; his rival, meanwhile, is doing all the right French things—just lightly enough.

There are oddly awkward bits in the story; among them, an unremarkable 10 page essay on Sade that dams up its fictional current. Sometimes, Tanaka's anguished reflections seem stagnant, sometimes repetitive.

Yet the cumulative effect is astonishing. "And You, Too" wields a variety of effects, from a comedy of academic intrigue, to a Jamesian portrait of cross cultural misunderstanding, to the hauntingly surreal quality of Tanaka's pilgrimage around France in pursuit of Sade's presence, to a real and profound sadness.

Of the two lesser companion pieces, "A Summer in Rouen" is a beautifully suggestive account of a Japanese boy brought to a French town just after World War II. He—like the author—is Catholic; his sponsors hope he will study and return to Japan to propagate a French provincial brand of Catholicism. He finds himself and his culture totally misperceived by his well meaning bourgeois provincial hosts; polite and sweating, he retreats into himself. When the daughter tries to teach him "correct" table manners—eat slowly, make conversation—his head feels "like a waste basket."

"Araki Thomas," much sketchier, sets a similar theme back in the 17th Century. A Japanese youth, converted by Catholic missionaries, is sent to Rome to study. When Japan's rulers begin to persecute its small Catholic community, he returns unwillingly to face what his Roman sponsors glowingly prescribe as glorious martyrdom. Upon arrival, he promptly abjures the faith.

In an introduction, Endo notes that these stories, written 25 years ago, present a starker picture of the divide between Japanese and Western culture than the one he has come to hold. Now he sees hopes of transcending it, he writes, perhaps by studying the subconscious.

Yet to the Western reader, the flash of revelation is as remarkable as ever. There are moments in these stories where the author is able to make us feel Japanese ourselves. Perhaps that is an exaggeration. But he does make us feel, at times, as much of a suffering stranger inside our own culture.

Scott Baldauf (review date 27 July 1990)

SOURCE: "Between Two Cultures," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 27, 1990, p. 13.

[In the following review, Baldauf discusses how Endo's Foreign Studies makes valid points about the tension between two cultures in its three stories of Japanese Christians.]

When Portuguese missionaries landed in Japan in 1549, they proclaimed the Japanese to be the most spiritual race in Asia. Peasants and noblemen converted by the hundreds of thousands.

Fearing a loss of sovereignty, Japanese warlords booted the Portuguese out in 1614, and Japanese converts were forced to recant or face torture and death. Until the arrival of Admiral Matthew Calbraith Perry's warships some 240 years later, Japan's doors were shut to the white man. Some would argue that the doors remain shut today.

The persecution of Japanese Christians has been fertile subject matter for novelists, but perhaps no one addresses it better than Shusaku Endo.

Converting to Roman Catholicism after his parents' divorce, Endo soon realized that by worshipping an "alien" god, he had ripped himself out of the fabric of Japanese society. And as the initial euphoria of conversion wore off, Endo discovered that Europeans themselves fail to practice many of the teachings he valued most in Christianity. Little wonder that many of Endo's fictional characters struggle with a dual identity, Asian and Western.

The best of Endo's novels, including the chilling Silence, and The Samurai, are plot-driven, semi-historical fiction, and Japanese readers have consumed them like rice cakes. The stories retain their verve and directness, even in translation. Writing mainly for a non Christian Japanese audience, Endo steers away from preaching. He describes such religious symbols as crucifixes or church top gargoyles through Japanese eyes. The effect can be startling.

An early book, Foreign Studies has only recently found an English translator. It is composed of three separate narratives in France and Italy from the early 1600s to today.

In the first story, "Kudo," a Japanese seminarian in France during the 1950s struggles against the cultural arrogance of his well meaning host family as he enters the Roman Catholic priesthood. Endo then shows us Araki Thomas, a Japanese priest fully 300 years before, dispirited because Rome is more interested in him as a future missionary than as a recent convert. The third and most developed story follows Tanaka, a timorous lecturer in French literature who travels to Paris in the 1960s to do research on the Marquis de Sade.

Each character suffers from an isolation that goes beyond homesickness. And because the Japanese value not showing emotion or weakness, their Western acquaintances assume that all is well.

Endo presents the West in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, as exploiting Japanese respect for authority. Obligations to the church merely replace the obligation they once felt to family and country. Defeated while their faith is still uncertain, Endo's Japanese grudgingly admit that Christianity is unsuited to their culture.

But he makes his readers wonder if Western culture has learned much from the religion it preaches. After all, the Europe that embraced Christ also toyed with the ideas of the Marquis de Sade.

And that leads us to Tanaka, a bumblingly shy man who lacks popularity even with his fellow Japanese in Paris. Many post war French intellectuals like Simone DeBeauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre saw parallels between fascism and the unabashed evil of the Marquis, and Tanaka thought he could enhance his position at his university in Japan by becoming a Sade specialist. Although lacking Sade's assertiveness to act, he shares Sade's emotional depravity.

Endo has disavowed the pessimism of Foreign Studies, but by releasing it to the West some 25 years after its Japanese debut, he clearly felt the novel could help us understand those who are torn between their own and a Western identity. And he's right. The points it makes are valid and harrowing, and beautifully developed.

Jeffrey Bernard Allen (review date 24 October 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Foreign Studies, in The Christian Century, Vol. 107, No. 30, October 24, 1990, pp. 973-74.

[In the following review, Allen asserts that Endo's true subject in Foreign Studies is the mystery of identity.]

The clash of cultures is an old theme of universal relevance. Shusaku Endo is a Japanese Roman Catholic who writes about the social and cultural distances between the East and the West. This book is a collection of three stories first published in Japan in 1965 and now translated by Mark Williams. All three stories concern Japanese intellectuals who experience alienation in the West—a very personal theme for Endo, who studied for several years in Lyon, France.

In the first story, "A Summer in Rouen," a young Japanese student named Kudo is invited to stay with a devout Roman Catholic family in the provincial town. It is soon after the war and Kudo is forced to endure the family's ethnic misconceptions as well as their attempts to mold him into a good Catholic. The story concludes with his almost unbearable feelings of alienation.

The second story ends on a similarly pessimistic note. Narrated in a journalistic style, the story is a speculative biography of a real figure from Japanese history, Araki Thomas, who studies for the priesthood in 17th century Rome. Angered at the West's attempt to introduce Christianity to Japan by any means, the emperor starts persecuting Christians. Thomas's contact with the West makes him a marked man, though it gains him an almost saintly status with Japanese Christians. Thomas finds himself burdened by a devotion to his faith. He returns home and is eventually executed.

The final story, "And You, Too," is the longest and most substantial look at the burden of Western culture. Tanaka, a timid Japanese scholar of French literature, comes to Paris in the mid '60s to research the life and work of the Marquis de Sade. Where Kudo and Thomas had problems understanding Western notions of virtue, Tanaka has equal problems understanding Western ideas of sin. His inability to decipher Sade is symbolic of an overall failure to penetrate the heart of European beliefs, customs and practices.

Whereas another of Endo's books, Silence, suggests the possibility of genuine understanding between East and West, this book offers no such vision. But the failure is part of a larger failure, expressing the workings of Endo's true subject: the mystery of identity. If Endo's characters are alienated from the West, they are equally alienated from themselves. Given the dark recesses of the soul, we are all foreigners.

Elizabeth Beverly (review date 23 November 1990)

SOURCE: "The Tyranny of Our Incarnation," in Commonweal, Vol. CXVII, No. 20, November 23, 1990, pp. 700-02.

[In the following review, Beverly asserts that Endo's Foreign Studies is about what she calls "the tyranny of our incarnation" in which we are born into one existence and yearn to reach to each other as well as ourselves.]

Consider this book. The author calls it a novel even though it consists of one twenty five page long, perfectly realized short story, one swift historical account in twelve pages, and a long (one hundred seventy nine page) narrative that is primarily novelistic in impulse. The book was written in the mid sixties, in Japanese; finally, in 1989, the English translation appeared. In the preface, the author likens his former authorial self, the one who penned this novel, to "a pitiful younger brother." And the author is Shusaku Endo, the ardent and prolific Japanese Catholic whose most recently written novel Scandal concerns the subject of sexual perversion in contemporary Japan, whose masterwork Silence explores the apostasy of a seventeenth century Portuguese missionary, and whose Life of Jesus derives its warmth from a consideration of the mother like qualities of Christ.

Consider the plight of the reviewer who in a short space is asked to bring the book to life for you. Should I tell you what it feels like to read Foreign Studies? Tell you that the experience is rather like setting off on a somewhat brisk but steady trek with an acquaintance whose personal habits are both rigorous and ascetic, someone who expects you to trust him every step of the way? The terrain is somewhat rocky, unfamiliar, so you do, and just as you think that your footing is sure, Endo stops and says, "Look!" Naturally you look up, expecting to see some grand vista or unsuspecting animal. But Endo directs your eyes downward, to a spot not far from your own feet where flourishes a startling patch of language and thought, at once familiar but bizarre, and therefore oddly beautiful:

In the winter evening light (Tanaka) could make out a couple of grooves like railway lines, which had apparently been created by the wheels of passing traffic. He had never seen such a road in Tokyo. He was convinced that no such road existed in Japan. He had never before experienced such a road, tinged as it was with the smell of human habitation and the sweaty odor of human feet. If it had been possible, he would have liked to dig up this road … and take it home with him. And had he not felt so inhibited, he would even have liked to run his tongue over it.

Within this patch of language from "And You, Too," the third section of Foreign Studies, and within Endo's insistence that we linger with him over such a spot, lies his challenge to us as readers: we must read with the same awareness of the need for the conscious, moral life which preoccupies Endo as he writes. Our primary task is not to be distracted by twists in plot or the development of the protagonist, typical novelistic endeavors. Our job is to bear witness to the predicament of a particular person in a particular situation. In this instance, the person is Tanaka, an assistant professor of literary studies who has come to France to continue his research on the Marquis de Sade. And at this instant, a surge of bodily longing has caught Tanaka totally and uncharacteristically off guard.

Tanaka is a worrier; he frets over his advancement, he plans his strategies for research. He's fussy and judgmental, disheartened by the dreariness of Paris, unwilling to be embarrassed by Japanese who haven't "made it" in the expatriate life. In the midsixties enough Japanese have thrived in Europe in the two decades since the Second World War to create a known community. But Tanaka cares nothing for them. He sees Paris as a necessary way station on the path to academic success in his homeland. He's convinced that he studies Sade only to offer an eighteenth century European commodity.

But as Tanaka worries his way through this long narrative, we see that the remarkable combination of self absorption and alienation from deeper feelings of sympathy for self and others renders Tanaka oddly reminiscent of Sade, not in his monstrousness, but in the mindlessness that allows monstrousness to take root and grow. Estranged from himself and from those impulses that serve to sweeten life (Tanaka focuses periodically on the snapshot of his baby son), he literally errs, strays from the community that might help him.

But for the Endo who wrote Foreign Studies, the plight of the "stranger" is to be estranged. The collision of culture with culture, of the lone Easterner with the historically dense West, promises a suffering that enters the body itself. The three protagonists: Kudo, a fifties' student who finds his housing with a devout Catholic family in "A Summer in Rouen" to be an invitation for shame; "Araki Thomas," the first Japanese student to study in Europe in the seventeenth century and return to a homeland in which the banning of Catholicism now requires of him either martyrdom or apostasy; as well as Tanaka in "And You, Too," all find that one's true spirit may be alienated from one's body as long as there are others to please or to satisfy, as long as appearances must be kept up, as long as one must hide oneself.

But for some, the body in its sorrow and aloneness can no longer lie, and asks the spirit to join it. This is the mystery of physical suffering, and the gift for a character such as Tanaka is his inability to transcend his suffering body; he must claim it, know it, feel it, and in this way must begin to intuit his common tie with the imprisoned Sade, his own dark brother. Time and cultural difference may separate, but lone suffering brings together. When Tanaka feels his body thrill to the scent of a well traveled road, we suspect that only the surprise of the embodied life can save him, but we don't necessarily suspect that his salvation will reside in an almost predictable sickness. Still, Endo closes his narrative before he allows any salvation to mar the studied cynicism of the text.

Although Endo's conscious intention in this novel is to elaborate the agony and risk of cultural conflict in which the "other" is devalued by the ascendant culture, his profound achievement is in his portrayal of what could be called the tyranny of our incarnation. That we must be born into one body, in one place, at one time, seems to determine our lot. We yearn to reach each other across these baffling distances, and cannot reach even ourselves. Foreign Studies provides a wise and compelling exploration of the problem, but Endo does not bother with hope.

Ironically, Endo, in his striking ability to bring his Japanese characters so fully to our lives, undercuts his own pessimism. If you choose to follow him, you will discover that the pleasure of reading lies not in finding out "what happens to whom," but rests in the simple act of accompanying another person, letting your pace imitate his pace, slowly matching your breathing to his, feeling his sense of the trek enter you, so that your mind can fill with the questions, with the disturbances, with the affections, with the life that floods his sight as he guides you. Endo is a rare novelist, a determined thinker who quite simply ranges over territory no one else even knows is there.

For this reason it would be wise to give yourself the chance to consider this book.

Paul Binding (review date 30 April 1993)

SOURCE: "Sad in Japan," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 6, No. 250, April 30, 1993, p. 44.

[In the following review, Binding discusses the stories in Endo's The Final Martyrs and asserts that Endo gives a view of the power of suffering and insight into late 20th-century urban life.]

"Dogs and little birds still appear frequently in my fiction," says the novelist narrator of the story "Shadows", "but they are no mere decorations … Even today, the moist grieving eyes of dogs somehow remind me of the eyes of Christ. This Christ I speak of is, of course, not the Christ filled with assurance of his own way of life. It is the weary Christ, trampled upon by men and looking up at them from beneath their feet."

These lines are of Endo's very essence; the attraction, in a Japanese middle-class milieu, to the Catholic Christianity bequeathed by his mother is precisely in its moral and spiritual elevation of the confused, the downtrodden, the insulted and the injured. And in its forgiving inclusion of the errant.

The Church was founded by one who betrayed his master; Japanese Catholicism was kept alive in secret by those who, converted by Portuguese or French missionaries, had capitulated out of cowardice to the cruelties of the authorities and apostates. In the title story, the large elephant like protagonist who so easily becomes terrified in the face of trouble is almost given dispensation for his weakness. Christ, it's suggested, will be made happy merely by the times (before he runs away again) when he keeps company with his fellow believers. It is not difficult for a non Japanese to appreciate how, against the cultures first of Tojo and the war lords and then of Japan's postwar "miracle", such aspects of Christianity would have their appeal.

In an interesting preface, Endo explains that he writes short stories to familiarise himself with the material he will turn into novels. Certainly each of the stories in this wonderful volume has something of a novel's richness and discursiveness. Readers will see openings to one novel or another throughout the book. Endo is a writer who works very much from his experimental grammar of metaphors. The Catholic priest in a non-Catholic society; "colonial" childhood in Manchuria; the unease of the graduate in the immediate postwar years; the appalling paraphernalia of illness; the contemporary writer trying to establish the moisture of spiritual life in an arid materialist society—all these predicaments are to be found here.

Endo is unflinchingly autobiographical. The moving "A Sixty Year Old Man", for instance, was written when the author had turned 60 himself, extending his so ample charity even to his own ageing self as he records his pathetic hankerings after young girls witnessed in bars or parks.

Three stories in particular seem strong and generously worked in precisely the same way as his novels. "Lies", from Endo's Manchurian boyhood, deals with the long term significance of interactions with those seemingly on the margins of our lives. "The Last Supper" and "The Box" present the unmanageable anguish consequent on certain compulsory immersions in the violent events of contemporary history.

The main characters here have had their whole beings defiled by the moral anarchy unleashed by war (in Burma and in mainland Japan in the second world war's last stages). It is Endo's triumph that his sense of the totalitarian power of suffering does not diminish his insights into quotidian, late 20th century urban life—and vice versa.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 July 1994)

SOURCE: A review of The Final Martyrs, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXII, No. 13, July 1, 1994, p. 865.

[In the following review, the critic points out the autobiographical nature of the stories in Endo's The Final Martyrs.]

Somber, haunting stories that resonate with compassion, eloquence, and metaphor.

Once again, Endo (Foreign Studies, 1990, etc.) explores the themes for which he is famous: Roman Catholics in Japan, the illness and fear of aging, the pain of divorce, the loneliness of childhood. In this collection of 11 stories written over the last 30 years, autobiography continues to take a front seat: Endo finds inspiration in his own experience with lung disease to address physical suffering; in his parents' loveless relationship to address loss of innocence and compromise; in his own experience with Christianity to address, as the apostate in the almost epic title story, the question of whether or not it is all right to be afraid and run away from a commitment to Christianity in the face of persecution; and in his increasing age to tackle nostalgia, regret, and resignation. To make these heavy topics even murkier, they often overlap in ways that would be overwhelming to someone without Endo's fresh and gentle touch. Spiritual decline feels natural as "A Fifty Year Old Man," a disillusioned husband, offers an almost comic look at watching his dog die a slow death. In "Shadows," it's a relief when a writer finally understands that he doesn't understand the priest who was his childhood mentor, nemesis, and betrayer. And we recognize the writer in "The Box" who follows the trail of postcards he finds in an antiques shop to discover love, betrayal, and espionage while wondering if "perhaps I think up such nonsensical, irrational things because I am getting old." What might otherwise feel like giving up becomes giving in to the unrecognized power of the human condition. This is the precious uncertainty of all of Endo's delicate dreams.

A strange celebration of life and death that is wise but never weary.

Peregrine Hodson (review date 9 July 1994)

SOURCE: "Heavy Themes with a Light Touch," in Spectator, Vol. 273, No. 8661, July 9, 1994, pp. 33-4.

[In the following review, Hodson points out that Endo writes about heavy themes in his novel Deep River, but that he "explores them with a lightness of touch that avoids sensationalism."]

Shusaku Endo is a strong candidate to win Japan's next Nobel prize for literature. He's also a Christian. So far, so good. But sitting in the shade beside a pool in Umbria, or huddled on the beach at Southwold, Spectator readers might think twice before choosing his book—about a group of Japanese pilgrims going to Benares—for holiday reading. Japan, Christianity, India … it all seems a bit too much like hard work. Why not settle for the real stuff that's safe, familiar and predictable—another helping of exclamation marks from Julie Burchill, or something nice and undemanding by Amanda Craig?

The author of Deep River is unafraid to write about the things which most of us prefer to ignore, like death, guilt, and the inability to love—hardly topics to enliven a villa party. Endo is a serious writer. Cannibalism, religion, sex and reincarnation are heavy themes, but he explores them with a lightness of touch that avoids sensationalism.

The story is simple and elegantly structured. Each character has a secret wound which, one way or another, they hope to heal; the husband grieving for his dead wife, the writer recovering from a terrible illness, the woman who believes in nothing, and the old soldier represented by ghosts of the past. Their paths converge on Benares, by the banks of the Ganges, where a young Japanese man, Otsu, lives in poverty, carrying the sick and the dying to the river.

In the course of their respective journeys, Endo explores the limitations of Eastern and Western attitudes to suffering and, it has to be said, the meaning of life. This willingness to test the deeper currents of existence may seem foolish to people used to the shallows of contemporary writing. Big ideas are faintly embarrassing—much better if they remain where they belong, below the surface. Besides, big ideas don't make big money—unless they fit the fashionable formula. Apart from the Bible, Christianity is rarely the ingredient for a bestseller. But in Japan, Deep River has sold 300,000 copies in hardback.

The hyper-materialism of Japan is strange ground for Endo's mysticism. But perhaps the Japanese recognize, in his vision of the world, something absent from their own. It may not be what they want, but it might be what they need. In the same way, Deep River might just be the book to have beside the pool, or the sea. The translation is natural and unobtrusive. Lose some inhibitions. Forget inertia. Find out more about the Onion.

Publishers Weekly (review date 15 August 1994)

SOURCE: A review of The Final Martyrs, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 241, No. 32, August 15, 1994, p. 88.

[In the following review, the critic discusses the different topics covered in Endo's short story collection The Final Martyrs.]

In a calm, delicate, unobtrusive manner, several of these 11 deceptively simple stories by Japanese novelist Endo (The Golden Country) show people wrestling with spiritual crises, extreme situations or life's central issues. In "The Last Supper," an alcoholic corporate executive confesses to a psychiatrist the source of his torment: as a starving soldier in WW II, he ate a dead comrade's flesh. In "Heading Home," a man exhumes his mother's body, buried 30 years earlier, in order to cremate her remains and place them with the ashes of his recently deceased brother. In the title story, set in the 1860s, when the Meiji government outlawed Christianity, a village coward recants his Christian faith to avoid the torture meted out to his fellow converts, but he ultimately redeems himself through an act of quiet courage. This deftly translated collection, comprised of stories written as early as 1959 and as late as 1985, also includes semi autobiographical tales in which Endo deals with the traumatic impact that his parent's divorce had on his boyhood. He also writes with grace, compassion and gentle humor about old age, love betrayed, Japanese tourists and the marks we leave on the lives of others.

Karl Schoenberger (review date 18 September 1994)

SOURCE: "A Voice of Moral Reasoning," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 18, 1994.

[In the following review, Schoenberger discusses how Endo guides his characters in a search for the moral truth without sounding pompous or preachy in his collection of short stories The Final Martyrs.]

In a country where the conservative Establishment remains unapologetic about the stain of naked aggression during World War II, and where a ranking cabinet minister recently denied the veracity of the Nanking Massacre, Shusaku Endo stands out as a lonely voice in a wasteland of moral reasoning. This Roman Catholic writer, often described as Japan's Graham Greene, has been struggling with the slippery themes of right and wrong, defiance and cowardice, martyrdom and apostasy since his country emerged, psychically burned and morally bewildered, from the debacle of war.

His fiction may not translate with the brilliance of a twisted artist such as Yukio Mishima. But Endo is one of the rare living Japanese intellectuals who truly grasps the absolute moral values that the Western World has enshrined—and betrayed—for two millennia, and which the colicky collective consciousness of Japanese society has only partially digested over the last 150 years.

Endo's journey through Japan's postwar spiritual malaise is reflected darkly in The Final Martyrs, a collection of short stories originally published between 1959 and 1985, now available in translation for American readers in an edition brought out by New Directions. The reader should be warned, however: these are not short pieces of fiction in the conventional sense. Endo is less concerned with entertainment value than with his message.

Indeed, these are not short stories at all, but rather character sketches and rambling essays in the confessional zuihitsu style, a stilled genre that is unfortunately far too prevalent in contemporary Japanese literature. Copiously detailed footnotes grace one of these stories, apparently part of the original text. It should be noted that Endo made his mark as a man of letters in the genre of historical fiction. It pays to be patient with his dull, gray sincerity.

Endo's emblematic work is the 1966 novel Silence (Chinmoku), which is perhaps his answer to Greene's The Power and the Glory, exploring the psychological horror of the persecution of Christian martyrs in 17th Century Japan. In this novel, Endo introduces his most powerful metaphor: the "swamp" of Japan, which consumes and obliterates the alien ideal that an individual has a right to stand against the crowd with a politically unpopular conviction.

The novel's theme was foreshadowed in the title story of this collection, "The Final Martyrs," first published in 1959. It describes the ruthless persecution of the supposedly liberated "hidden Christians" in Southern Japan, who practiced their faith in secret during the 250 years that Christianity was outlawed by feudal authorities. The story is set in the small village of Nakano, near Nagasaki, in the early Meiji era, when the new oligarchic regime felt the same urge to suppress dangerous thoughts.

Significantly, Endo suggests a continuity of social management from feudal barbarism to modern thought control, which persisted through the ugly war years and, I would argue, is alive and well beneath contemporary Japan's veneer of liberal democracy.

Endo uses the final martyrs to show how difficult it is to embrace an absolute moral truth in the swamp of Japan. The villagers mix and muddle the absolute values of faith and devotion to Christ with the traditional, diffuse loyalties to the social group. The village ethos is clearly grafted onto the remnants of the Christian ethic, transmitted clandestinely over the generations.

A mentally disabled lad, Kisuke, is the prop demonstrating this cultural confusion. The village idiot is at first ridiculed and ostracized by his peers in the youth organization because he is mentally weak and cowardly, in a classic example of group bullying. "He has a weakness for pain, after all, and so I imagine he'd whimper in agony. Why, maybe he might even abandon the Lord Jesus and topple," says one of Kisuke's detractors.

But in the end Kisuke finds a reserve of courage, and he is shown true mercy by one of the final martyrs, as both face torture and death.

The last story in the collection, "The Box" (1985), is a musing essay that weaves in and out of a another parable of Christian charity. We hear a doddering Endo wonder whether talking to the plants in his study will help them grow, as he recounts the tale of an old box of pictures and postcards he once bought in the resort town of Karuizawa. The contents of the box take him on a trail of intrigue, espionage and betrayal, all involving a half Japanese foreign woman who was harassed by the thought police in wartime Japan.

"A dark, gloomy, at times even dismal atmosphere hung over Karuizawa during the war," Endo writes. "Foreigners of various nations, on the pretext they were being evacuated from military targets, were assembled here, and while on the surface they led normal lives, in reality they were under surveillance by the Japanese secret police and military police."

Endo's didactic technique, a blend of first person narrative with anecdotal fiction, is tolerable because his own voice is restrained and understated. The writer is not pompous, preaching from a pulpit high above his frail characters but a humble guide to the moral conundrum of his people.

"Over the years," Endo writes in the preface to the English edition, "I have forged intimate familial ties with [my] characters, who are a reflection and a portion of myself."

Frank Tuohy (review date 28 October 1994)

SOURCE: "Good Girls," in The Times Literary Supplement, October 28, 1994.

[In the following review, Tuohy recommends reading Endo's The Girl I Left Behind, but asserts that Deep River will disappoint Endo's devotees.]

With a dozen or so of his books translated into English, Shusako Endo must now be the best known Japanese novelist in the West. In his own country, however, his reputation is hedged around with qualifications, some of which may be reactions to the very things which attract and interest the foreign reader. These doubts on the home front would have prejudiced Endo's chances of becoming what his countrymen like to call a "Nobelist". Instead, this year's prize has gone to Kenzaburo Oe, a more avant garde writer, less successful but possibly for that reason more quintessentially Japanese.

V. S. Naipaul once wrote that "the Japanese are possessed of a way of looking—that curious literalness which adds up to a detachment formidable enough to seem pointless". Even so, he concluded, this involves a hunger for the seen and a concern with humanity. It is this concern which is in strongest evidence in Endo's work. He may be Japan's first writer to move outside the limiting social structures of his own culture and to write confidently about the outside world, depicting Polish prostitutes and French landladies as readily as his own countrymen. He is harshest in his judgment of the latter, evoking persecution and torture—as in his great novel Silence—and minimizing the aesthetic aspects which other writers have stressed. In The Sea and Poison, about wartime atrocities, there is a memorable moment when a young GI prisoner of war is introduced to a bunch of Japanese doctors. Brought up to respect the medical profession, he is polite and friendly, while their intention is to test his capacity for survival until he dies.

Endo's writing is tirelessly, repetitively, autobiographical. Born in the puppet state of Manchuria, he returned to Japan with his mother after his parents' divorce. At fourteen, he was converted to—one might say dragooned into—the Roman Catholic faith. During the war he lived in a Christian dormitory, followed by university and a period in France. Prominent Catholic novelists of the post war scene, such as François Mauriac and Julien Green, have clearly had a strong influence. He shares with Graham Greene a view of his faith as something equivalent to a viral infection. His religion is hardly joyous—nothing much in Endo is—but it is inescapable. There is a recurrent image of the sadness in Christ's face, which is compared to the expression of the dog the boy Shusaku left behind in Manchuria.

Endo has written extensively about the tragic and anomalous situation of Christianity in Japan. Silence deals with the apostasy, under torture, of a Christian missionary. The martyrdoms continued when the country was in isolation, until some years after the arrival of Commander Perry and his black ships. The very survival of garbled versions of the faith in isolated villages on the island of Kyushu is proof of its enduring power. History is full of forgotten suffering, and Endo finds a modern equivalent in the cancer ward, an example of unmentionable pain in ordinary society.

Christian novelists veer towards the dangerous edges, to paradox, doubt, apostasy. Endo's Scandal shows him doing this. The idea is to be found in a story by Vladimir Nabokov and an experience recorded by Graham Greene: a famous writer discovers that a stranger is using his name, passing himself off as the genuine article. Scandal, a manichaean fable of insistent power, ends by casting doubt on the division of the two selves, true and false.

It is more powerful, it has to be admitted, than either of the two novels at present under review. In a new afterword to the English translation of The Girl I Left Behind, itself written some thirty years ago, Endo states that Mitsu, the young woman who is its central character, "has continued to live with me ever since and can be seen reincarnated in my most recent novel Deep River in the person of the protagonist Otsu". Both Mitsu and Otsu, a male theological student, are efforts at depicting pure goodness. A difficult task, for even Dostoevsky failed to make Alyosha Karamazov as interesting as his brothers.

The Girl I Left Behind misleads us with its dust jacket and end papers showing an elegant beauty of the Showa period. Mitsu is very different, one of those plain, pigeon toed young women you see asleep on their feet in the Tokyo Metro or, if seated, obsessively examining their long hair for split ends. As students, they wear ankle socks, carry pencil boxes ornamented with Paddington Bear and hang their heads if spoken to. Full of romantic dreams, love for them is a mixture of hope, despair and impossibility. They pursue ecstatically the "male" stars of the Takarazuka girls' theatre, and a few years ago, they packed out the cinema which was showing the Merchant Ivory film of Maurice.

Through an advertisement in a movie magazine, Motsu meets Yoshioka, an impoverished, sex starved young man who shares a room with a fellow student in the chaotic squalor which descends on Japanese males when they have no women to look after them. The whole relationship is bungled: sexual love is low on Endo's scale of values. Mitsu falls in love, but Yoshioka only goes back to her when he can't find anyone else. Gradually we learn that Mitsu has performed a number of completely selfless actions until, one day finding a strange mark on her skin, she is dispatched to a leprosarium run by Catholic nuns. She learns to live among the other patients, then is told that she has been wrongly diagnosed. Thrust back into the world, she gets as far as the local railway station. Then she returns; without converting to Christianity, she spends the rest of her life among the lepers. Endo tells us that the original of Mitsu was a well to do young woman from Kyoto. He has heightened the picture by making his heroine one of the despised and rejected. In spite of some technical clumsiness, one is ready to believe in her all the way.

Deep River presents the Japanese as the rest of the world has come to see them—as tourists. This tour group is visiting Buddhist sites in India, which turn out to be rare—Buddhism, like Christianity having abandoned the birthplace of its founder. It is no surprise to find that these tourists are all seeking or fleeing from the meaning of their lives. Isobe's dying wife whispers: "I know I'll be reborn somewhere else in the world…. Look for me." Armed with the information that an Indian child has been heard speaking Japanese, he joins the tour. Mitsuko, a shallow, self confident divorcee, seduced a young man called Otsu when they were both students, under the influence of a novel, Moira, by Julien Green. She fails to deflect him from his vocation, though some pre Vatican II instructors in France nearly succeed. Otsu has found his true calling in helping the dying on the banks of the Ganges. Numada, a writer, is another self portrait, recycling once more the childhood in Manchuria. There is the usual tourist whose wife wants to go shopping, and whose insistence on taking photographs leads to Otsu's death in a riot.

I read Deep River, believing in the characters more than their motivation, which seems factitious. There are some over informative descriptions of India. But most of the time there are echoes of bygone bestsellers—Louis Bromfield, James Hilton or The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham's popular success which used Indian imprecision to keep its metaphysics warm. Deep River has sold 300,000 copies in Japan, but I think it will disappoint Endo's devotees. They should certainly read The Girl I Left Behind, with its moving portrayal of the saintly Mitsu. Beginners are better advised to go for Silence or Scandal, or some of the excellent short stories.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 February 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Deep River, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXIII, No. 3, February 1, 1995, pp. 89-90.

[In the following review, the critic praises the strong and original characters in Endo's Deep River.]

Japanese writer Endo (The Final Martyrs, 1994, etc.) continues his exploration of faith and anomie—in a deceptively simple and well told story of spiritual inquiry that movingly explores all the big questions.

The opening pages briefly introduce four people who will shortly, for varying reasons, join a Japanese tour-group travelling to India: Isobe, a businessman whose deceased wife, believing she would "be reborn somewhere in this world," made him promise he would look for her; Mitsuko, a volunteer at the dead woman's hospital, who is troubled by her own past and her obsession with a former classmate; retired industrialist Kiguchi, still haunted by wartime memories of Burma's notorious Highway of Death; and Numanda, a gentle writer of children's books who wants to repay his debt to the bird that saved his life when he was desperately ill. The book investigates the role religion plays in contemporary Japan, where relatives attending a funeral politely question the Buddhist priest conducting the service, while "not one of them really believed anything the priest was saying." As the trip gets under way, more disquiets are explored: Isobe can't forget how he ignored his wife when she was alive; Mitsuko hungers for love but can't abandon her cynicism; Kiguchi recalls a fellow veteran who saved his life by eating human flesh but then drank himself to death trying to forget what he had done; and Numanda muses on the central role nature has played in his life. The four finally experience their epiphanies on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, where the old and afflicted come to die and the faithful immerse themselves in the river. In this richly detailed setting, Endo offers a faith that, using the river as metaphor, comfortingly blends all the great religions together.

Conflicts a bit too neatly resolved, but saved from mawkishness by strong and original characters.

Patricia O'Connell (review date 19 May 1995)

SOURCE: "Deep Endo," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXII, No. 10, May 19, 1995, pp. 34-5.

[In the following review, O'Connell asserts that in Endo's Deep River and his The Final Martyrs the author is reiterating, although sometimes expanding on his major theme: the struggle to fuse Christianity and Eastern culture.]

In two newly translated volumes, a novel and a story collection, Japanese Catholic Shusaku Endo reiterates and sometimes expands upon his major theme—the frustration of trying to fuse Western Christianity and Eastern culture.

The novel Deep River may take its title from the Negro spiritual that provides its epigraph, but the setting here is not the American South—it is India, the destination of a Japanese tourist group, and the river is the Ganges, "so deep," in the words of the sometimes cynical character Mitsuko, "I feel as though it's not just for the Hindus but for everyone." This shift of locale from Japan, which provides the backdrop for most of Endo's fiction, offers the author an opportunity to move beyond his typical exposition of the East West dichotomy, to explore how yet another culture and religion can rattle expectations and provide new self revelations for his characters.

Among the tourists are Isobe, a non-demonstrative office worker who's recently lost his long-neglected wife, Keiko, to cancer; and, on the trip by chance, Mitsuko, a divorced volunteer at the hospital where Keiko died. Mitsuko's leisure time do goodism with patients seems at odds with her coldness and lack of faith, but the complexity of her character and the terrible loneliness with which she lives are convincingly revealed as the novel progresses. Also making the trip are Numada, a writer of animal stories who's often mistakenly ghettoized in the book world as a children's author, and Kiguchi, a former soldier obsessed with his experiences on the Highway of Death in Burma during World War II. What would otherwise be a central-casting stereotype—the photosnapping tourist from hell—is here transformed into a pivotal role in the person of Sanjo, an ambitious, obnoxious newlywed; even his wife is just another stepping stone in his well orchestrated and utterly compassionless life plan. Another interesting spin in the character mix is Enami, the guide from Cosmos Tour Company, who secretly despises the travelers he leads through this foreign land.

Most intriguing of all, however, is Otsu—not a member of the tour group but Mitsuko's former schoolmate who is now a Catholic priest living in an ashram. An outsider while a college student because of his religious fervor, Otsu ironically becomes another kind of outsider while studying for the priesthood because, for example, he cannot shed his Eastern belief in the commingling of good and evil; this notion is dangerously "Jansenistic or Manichaeistic," he is told by more traditional Catholic teachers. He fulfills his priestly vocation in carrying the bodies of dead Hindu pilgrims, outcasts, to funeral pyres near the river Ganges for cremation. When asked how he reconciles the Hindu belief in reincarnation with Christianity, he explains, "Every one of [the disciples] had stayed alive by abandoning [Jesus] and running away. He continued to love them even though they had betrayed him. As a result, he was etched into each of their guilty hearts. He died, but he was restored to life in their hearts."

The letters between characters in this novel reinforce Endo's reputation as a marvelous epistolary writer; he would have given Paul et al. some stiff competition had he lived in New Testament times. And he once again proves himself the master of the quirky, unforgettable detail: when Isobe learns his wife has terminal cancer, he simultaneously hears outside the hospital window "the voice of a street vendor peddling roasted sweet potatoes—Yaki imo o o." Any reader acquainted with Endo's work knows of its highly autobiographical nature. This attention to sounds in his latest writing reminds us that Endo spent a good deal of time in his life listening to painful silences (or arguments) before his parents' divorce, to the unfamiliar Mass that his mother chose as his form of worship when he was a schoolboy in a Buddhist country, to the medical professionals who have operated on and muttered ominously over his lungs for too much of his life, to the French spoken during his adult years as a student in Lyon, where he willfully exposed himself to a culture imbued not only with that prickly Christianity but also a fierce national pride, and where he must have felt even more an outsider than as a Catholic in Japan.

Familiar themes also resonate throughout his second story collection. In the title story of The Final Martyrs, Endo again reveals his fascination with apostasy. In "Shadows," an epistolary piece, we see a grown man writing to a priest, now separated from the church, who loomed large in the man's childhood after his parents had split up and his mother had arranged for herself and her son to convert to Catholicism (which his father refers to as "one of those 'Amen' churches"). Two stories here, "A Fifty Year Old Man" and "A Sixty Year Old Man," are march-of-time semisequels to "A Forty Year Old Man," which appeared in Endo's first story collection, Stained Glass Elegies (1987); the oldest protagonist in these stories is in fact the author of The Life of Jesus (1979), nonfiction that Endo himself wrote. "Japanese in Warsaw," which includes a tourist loathing guide (this time Shimzu of the Orbis Travel Bureau), has certain parallels with Deep River and also with "Fudano Tsuji" in Stained Glass Elegies. Both involve the Polish saint, Maximilian Kolbe, who at one point served in Nagasaki as a missionary and later sacrificed his life at Auschwitz. In "The Last Supper" we see Kiguchi, somewhat transformed from his role in Endo's latest novel, but still entangled in a tale of the Burmese Highway of Death. Indeed, the similarities between these stories and Endo's other works are too numerous to mention. Whether one considers the repetition among the stories, novels, drama, sketches, and memoir pieces intriguing or exasperating is up to the individual reader.

The historical novel Silence (1980), concerning the apostate Jesuit missionary Christovao Ferreira and his former seminary student Sebastian Rodrigues in seventeenth-century Japan (and reportedly being filmed by director Martin Scorsese), remains Endo's masterpiece, but these two new works, beautifully translated by Van C. Gessel, are welcome additions to the author's oeuvre in English. Let's hope that New Directions continues to publish the award winning Endo in this country and that such publications spur more lengthy analysis of this writer's life and work.

Michael Harris (review date 22 May 1995)

SOURCE: "The Various Paths that Lead to God," in Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1995, p. E4.

[In the following review, Harris complains that two of the main characters of Endo's Deep River "are the sort of people we bump into only in religious novels," but he asserts that the powerful images at the end of the novel redeem it.]

For Western readers, Shusaku Endo has long been one of the most accessible Japanese novelists, and not just because of his straightforward style and deft, economical plotting. Endo is a Christian. He deals with issues of faith and morality that we feel at home with, and even his occasional preachiness has a familiar ring.

Indeed, Endo has often seemed alienated from his own culture. Beginning with his most famous novel, Silence, about Japan's 17th Century Catholic martyrs, he has complained that the Asian mind is a "mud swamp" in which Western ideas of good and evil, sin and redemption lose their clear cut outlines and sink without a trace.

Deep River, though, signals a healing of Endo's inner split, a reconciliation between East and West, Christianity and other faiths. His chief spokesman in the novel, the outcast Catholic seminarian Otsu, searches for "a form of Christianity that suits the Japanese mind" and concludes that Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists also have valid paths to God.

The story is about a modern-day pilgrimage. In 1984, at the time of Indira Gandhi's assassination, a group of Japanese tourists visit Buddhist and Hindu holy places in India, notably Varanasi, a city on the Ganges where crowds of the faithful come to bathe in the river or be cremated on its shore.

Less outwardly colorful than Chaucer's pilgrims, Endo's tour bus passengers all carry grave inner burdens.

Kiguchi, an ex soldier, survived Japan's disastrous 1944 invasion of eastern India. He is haunted by memories of the retreat through the Burmese jungle, where starving, malaria ridden troops killed themselves with grenades and others ate the dead. He wants to hold a memorial service for them.

Isobe is mourning his wife, whom he took for granted until she died of cancer. With her last breath, she asked him to find her as soon as she was reincarnated. Impelled by the love he failed to show her when she was alive, Isobe embarks on what he knows to be a foolish quest—pursuing reports of an Indian child who claims to have been Japanese in a previous life.

Numada, a writer of children's stories, has relied on relationships with animals during a life filled with painful separations. Dogs and birds provide him with the companionship that others find in God. Newly recovered from tuberculosis, he feels indebted to a myna bird who, he fancifully believes, has died in his place.

Mitsuko, beautiful and cynical, seduced Otsu in college in an attempt to destroy his faith. He strikes her as clumsy and ludicrous, if sincere, and she doesn't understand why she has kept in touch with him—even now, when he lives in poverty with Hindus in Varanasi and spends his days nursing the dying who have dragged themselves to the sacred river.

Though not all the pilgrims find what they seek, all are moved by the primal experience of India.

Deep River is a story of a kind usually dared only by veteran writers—a direct, seemingly guileless inquiry into the meaning of life. Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the best known Western example, but it's a Japanese tradition, too: Witness Natsume Soseki's Light and Darkness and Akira Kurosawa's film Ikiru (Living).

Endo's achievement here is mixed. Kiguchi, Isobe and Numada are realistic characters, and their stories are quietly effective. Otsu and Mitsuko, though, are the sort of people we bump into only in religious novels.

Like Gaston Bonaparte in Endo's Wonderful Fool, Otsu is a clownish figure who believes he's a failure when we know he's actually a saint. (It doesn't help that Gaston himself, or a clone of him, appears in Deep River in a secondary role.) Mitsuko's skepticism, her self conscious and self lacerating lovelessness, is only too obviously a sign of her spiritual hunger.

Since the relationship between these two is at the center of Deep River, it suffers a little. Nor is Endo always able to resist the temptation to slight people's everyday concerns ("cars and golf") or to dismiss the young as superficial simply because they are young. But the ending redeems the novel with powerful images—a "river of humanity" being carried away by the all accepting Ganges; the Hindu goddess Chamunda, wasted by disease but just as much a mother as the queenly Virgin Mary, suckling children with her withered breasts.

Robert Coles (review date 28 May 1995)

SOURCE: "The Great Tide of Humanity," in The New York Times Book Review, May 28, 1995, pp. 1, 21.

[In the following review, Coles discusses the psychological aspects of Endo's Deep River.]

With the epigraph to his latest novel the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo not only signals his story's intention, but by implication dismisses those critics who have made much of his relatively unusual situation as a Christian intellectual (he was baptized a Roman Catholic at the age of 11 and educated by priests) living in a nation far from the West, and for a long time successfully resisting its ever probing cultural (not to mention economic and political) assertiveness. Mr. Endo calls on a "Negro spiritual" for that epigraph and, indeed, for his book's title: "Deep river, Lord I want to cross over into campground." He is suggesting that his story will tell of a universal vulnerability, and the yearning that goes with it—the desire for a redemptive journey, a passage into more promising, secure terrain. The river in this instance is the Ganges: for Hindus a sacred setting, a way station toward new kinds of life to be assumed rather than a spot that marks the end of things, but for modern Japanese as well as Americans, reared on antisepsis and biotechnology, a place of absurdity if not danger—funeral pyres everywhere, and bodies of human beings and household pets floating downstream.

Before he brings his characters to that scene. Mr. Endo explores their contemporary bourgeois, cosmopolitan lives in an almost clinical way (they are called "cases"). These are troubled, restless people, no matter their privileged situation. Each of them has known disappointment, loss and psychological and moral jeopardy. Even as bodies float on the Ganges, these four men and one woman are perplexed, uneasy, pursued by demons of a past life—adrift in their own ways.

Isobe is a middle aged businessman whose wife died of cancer. He had always been cool, detached, all too self absorbed—making money, climbing higher on the social and economic ladders. He and his wife had learned to stay together, but to keep a substantial distance. With her death, more than the expected sadness overcame Isobe. A rigid emotional control, a determined practicality that had little use for playfulness or imaginative speculation, was challenged by a moment of overwhelming fatefulness, which, in this instance, seemed to make a mockery of all the carefully tended rituals and habits, if not compulsions, that had constituted a life and that were meant to preclude any hard, searching look into its meaning or purpose.

Taking aim at an agnosticism rooted in science and its pervasive rationalism, which these days is proving to be transnational and transcultural, Mr. Endo puts his finger on Isobe's spiritual pulse this way: "Because he lacked any religious conviction, like most Japanese, death to him meant the extinction of everything."

Before she died, Isobe's wife, Keiko, was haunted by disturbing dreams, and became persuaded (hope against hope) that death would not be final after all: "I'll be reborn somewhere in this world." She asked her husband to try to find her after death—thereby, of course, remaining loyal to her, remembering her in a decisive rather than cursory or occasional manner. When she was to be cremated, a Buddhist priest, in ceremonial attendance, explained his religion's assumptions: "When an individuals dies, their spirit goes into a state of limbo. Limbo means that they have not yet been reincarnated, and they wander uneasily about this world of men. Then, after seven days, they slip into the conjoined bodies of a man and a woman and are reborn as a new existence." Such a deduction is, of course, no more easily accepted by Isobe and millions like him in Japan than it would be by most Westerners.

This atmosphere of skeptical materialism informs the thinking of the others who figure in Mr. Endo's evocation of late 20th-century Japanese life. Mitsuko is an attractive divorcee, highly intelligent, relentlessly cynical, forbiddingly calculating—and yet, unbeknownst to herself, desperately vulnerable. She left a marriage that was ideal in secular terms; her husband is another of Mr. Endo's prosperous burghers. Now she does volunteer work in a hospital (she took care of Isobe's dying wife), and is haunted by memories of a relationship she had as a college student with Otsu, another "case"—a young man who would ultimately enlist as a seminarian in a Catholic religious order. Mitsuko had become Otsu's temptress, a derisively callous one at times. But she was also increasingly intrigued by, then taken with, this exquisitely innocent and generous person, so much her opposite. Together they discussed religion; and their chosen code name for God, Onion, becomes a symbolic theme that threads its way through the narrative: the many layers of faith, the humility faith asks of the believer, the connection between belief and tragedy—all of that conveyed through the ordinary, lowly onion, which one can peel and peel, though with tears. Onion addressed by those two youths eventually becomes Onion pursued with great passion, by Otsu within the Christian tradition, by Mitsuko within the confines of a willful and manipulative self centeredness that psychiatrists would find unsurprising—and very hard to challenge clinically.

All these people but Otsu are headed by plane for one of those sadly banal excursions meant to distract people already more distracted (ironically) than they might realize. To them, filling out his cast, Mr. Endo adds Numanda, a writer and naturalist who can put his heart into the construction of storybooks for children and converse passionately with birds while holding himself aloof from his wife and, it seems, all other fellow humans; and Kiguchi, a survivor of the Highway of Death in Burma, where cannibalism was rampant at the end of World War II—a terrible finale to Japan's ill fated effort to conquer the Asian mainland.

Taken together, these people make up their creator's take on modern man—as in Jung's "modern man in search of a soul." (Mr. Endo has studied psychoanalysis with interest, especially its Jungian variant.) All of these "cases" (again save Otsu) have tried to live conventional, reasonably successful secular lives and have failed—not in a dramatic way (an ostentatious turn to an "alternative life style," a collapse into madness), but with muffled cries of vague apprehension betraying a despair they don't even know, never mind acknowledge. Under such circumstances they are curiously restrained combatants, a seemingly unpromising crew for a traditionally constructed novel with a specific plot: a trip to a strange land; a tour guide who is a religious teacher of sorts; some minor but instructive, even emblematic characters (a young honeymooning couple, the husband a greedily prying photographer, the wife callow and spoiled, who give their creator a chance to comment on the self indulgent fatuousness of a certain type of Japanese—and not only Japanese—youth. Yet Mr. Endo is a master of the interior monologue, and he builds, "case" by "case," chapter by chapter, a devastating critique of a world that has "everything" but lacks moral substance and seems headed nowhere.

As his characters in India confront the great mysteries of Hinduism and Buddhism, including their notion of the migratory life of the soul, Mr. Endo gives life once more to some of his earlier characters, and to his longstanding metaphysical passions. Mitsuko has appeared in previous Endo fictions, and here, as before, the author explicitly connects her to one of his mentors. Francois Mauriac. She is a version of Mauriac's Therese Desqueyroux, whose sinful preoccupations and behavior, and whose capacity for evil, have been of no small interest to him. Mr. Endo himself was educated in France, and here, as in other fiction, for a spell he takes a Japanese character to a Europe (Lyons) that is for him quite familiar, even congenial, territory. In fact, Otsu, the failed seminarian who was such an easy prey to Mitsuko in his youth, and later an obsession of hers, is very much a character out of another French novelist's literary and religious imagination: the cure in Georges Bernanos's Diary of a Country Priest. That cure, too, seems to be a bumbling innocent, no match for the guile of various high and mighty folk, especially certain church bureaucrats who can't for the life of them comprehend him, his nature and his manner of being. This is the Judeo-Christian story, endlessly retold—by the prophet Isaiah, by the writers of the four Gospels, by a succession of novelists (Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Dickens)—and given by Bernanos the expository life of a rural French parish in the early years of this century: Christ foretold, Christ remembered, Christ evoked.

The unnerving, voluntary marginality of the man Jesus, His topsy turvy embrace of the weak, the "despised and the scorned" as against the big shots of church and state alike, has sent shudders down the backs of all sorts of people long after His death—among them, presumably, plenty of bishops and the functionaries who do their bidding. This is the situation Catholic novelists (as opposed to apologists) of whatever national or racial background have had to confront: on one hand, the spiritual truth that emerged from an informal community of humble Jews who were peasants and fishermen, inspired by a radical teacher and healer who was rather quickly hounded down; and on the other hand the later historical truth of a tight knit, powerful organization that has been, supposedly for His sake, in the thick of things for all these centuries and that has often enough wandered from the straight and narrow. What the Catholic theologian Romano Guardini said ("the church is the cross on which Christ was crucified") Shusaku Endo has given us in novel after novel—in his brilliantly original Silence (which takes on that subtlest, maybe most pernicious version of pride, Christian smugness) and now, more than 25 years later, in this tale that has Otsu, like his Saviour, dying young and badly misunderstood.

All through Deep River Otsu's pilgrimage haunts Mitsuko, his secular antagonist, and through her, the other characters in this beautifully wrought, lyrically suggestive story, so charged by the moral energy of its maker—who (like Thomas Merton at the time of his accidental death in Asia) wants to bring a Catholic sensibility to the shores of Hinduism and Buddhism. Not that this is a novel of easy grace. Doubt, Shusaku Endo has always known, is very much an aspect of faith. In the last pages, his sardonic, shrewd, embittered heroine glimpses "the sorrows of this deep river of humanity," realizes herself to be a part of it and takes a momentary step away from the tenacious pride that has prompted her to be so standoffish. Soon enough, we know, she will be aiming again for her solitary, privileged perch above it all, revealing the defiance of the egoistic observer. If Christianity holds up to us the lonely individual challenged by a God who entered history, Buddhism gives us people who are ready to surrender, finally, a measure of their human and spiritual particularity and who, with acceptance, join their follow creatures as part of the great tide of humanity. Mr. Endo manages to merge both of these streams of faith, bringing them together in a flow that is, indeed, deep. His work is a soulful gift to a world he keeps rendering as unrelievedly parched.

Andrew Greeley (review date 25 June 1995)

SOURCE: "Passage to India," in The Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1995.

[In the following review, Greeley asserts that "Endo is one of the world's greatest novelists, a wizard with plot and character and description, who writes a simple story about simple people and packs it densely with drama, challenge and finally faith."]

A group of Japanese tourists comes to the town of Varanasi (once called Benares) on the Ganges River in India. Among them are a man mourning a wife to whom he had never admitted his love, a former soldier who ate human flesh on the "Highway of Death" in Burma, a writer of nature stories for children who feels his life was saved by a myna bird, and a woman (Mitsuko) who has had much pleasure in life and much wealth but no happiness. They are hardly what one would call pilgrims. Yet they all are seeking something to give them hope.

One more Japanese character encounters these quasi-pilgrims: a misfit priest—probably Jesuit, but Endo only hints at this by placing him at one time in a well known Jesuit house in Lyons. In his arguments with his superiors before his long delayed ordination, Otsu may be in part a voice for Endo himself. Otsu is a familiar character, appearing with other names in other of the great novelist's stories: a fool, a clown, a bumbling and inept loser who also happens to be a saint. Disowned by his order, he lives in a house of prostitution and spends his time carrying the bodies of dead or dying Hindus to the funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganges so that they may find their own salvation. At one time, when he and Mitsuko were together in college, she seduced him and then cast him aside contemptuously. Yet she cannot get him or the "skinny man" on the cross out of her mind. Uncomfortable with "God," she uses the word "Onion" instead.

Endo is one of the world's great novelists, a wizard with plot and character and description who writes a simple story about simple people and packs it densely with drama, challenge and finally faith. Not only is he Japanese, but, surprisingly for a venerated Japanese novelist, a Catholic. Beginning with his first great novel, The Silence, Endo has been a fierce critic of Japanese culture and an equally fierce critic of the rigidities of institutional Catholicism. Yet he seems to be well-loved in Japan and in Catholic literary circles, is respected as one of the best Catholic novelists of the century, and has even been described as "a Japanese Graham Greene" (a comparison which in this reviewer's judgment is unfair to both men).

In Deep River Endo discovers grace in this convergence of three world religions—Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic Christian—on the banks of the Ganges. He does not seek to combine the three religions into one. Endo is a Catholic, and Otsu is a Catholic saint. But Endo absorbs the wisdom of all three faiths into his vision and makes salvation available to all his pilgrims. Immersing herself in the deep river, Mitsuko finds humankind and the transcendent and finally some as yet unexpressed purpose for her life. She grasps that the river—like the skinny man on the cross and her sometime lover—reveals each in its way what life means:

What I can believe in now is the sight of all these people, each carrying his or her own individual burdens, praying at this deep river. At some point, the words Mitsuko muttered to herself were transmuted into the words of a prayer. I believe that the river embraces these people and carries them away. A river of humanity. The sorrows of this deep river of humanity. And I am part of it.

She did not know to whom she directed this manufactured prayer. Perhaps it was towards the Onion that Otsu pursued. Or perhaps it was towards something great and eternal that could not be limited to the Onion.

Then, as she watches from a distance, Otsu is beaten, perhaps to death, by Hindus enraged by a pompous young Japanese photographer who has taken forbidden pictures of their funeral rites. She is angry at him because he has thrown away his life for "some Onion." She adds, "now in the end you break your neck and get carried away on a dead man's litter. When it comes down to it, you've been completely powerless." However, she finally encounters some of Mother Theresa's nuns tending a sick woman and realizes that though the "Onion" had died long years ago he had been reborn in the lives of other people for 2,000 years and not only in these nuns and in Otsu.

Endo has written so many wonderful novels that it would be patronizing to suggest that one is better than others. But surely Deep River, this moving story about a pilgrimage of grace, must be rated as one of the best of all of them.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 October 1995)

SOURCE: A review of The Girl I Left Behind, in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LXII, No. 19, October 1, 1995, p. 1380.

[In the following review, the critic asserts that while Endo's The Girl I Left Behind is a "simplistic apprentice work," there are some redeeming qualities to the novel.]

In a frank afterword, the eminent Japanese author (of Deep River, etc.) concedes that this early novel—written "some thirty-five years ago"—appears by contemporary standards both politically incorrect and technically immature. It's a bit better than that. In tracing the almost lifelong relationship between Yoshioka Tsutomu, a thoughtless salesman, and Mitsu, the credulous village girl whom he seduces and abandons—and whose path continues to cross his long years afterward—Endo makes clear that rejecting the selfless and generous Mitsu was tantamount to denying Christ, and that such is not done lightly. This unfortunately simplistic apprentice work is thus redeemed both by some incisive character analysis and by its fervent exploration of conflicted religiosity and of the protean forms spirituality takes. It also shows us in the making the accomplished later novelist for whom the exploration of embattled religious faith has become both his obsessive subject and his greatest strength.

David L. Swain (review date 22-29 November 1995)

SOURCE: "The Anguish of an Alien: Confessions of a Japanese Christian," in The Christian Century, Vol. 112, No. 34, November 22-29, 1995, pp. 1120-25.

[In the following review, Swain discusses Endo's Deep River and The Final Martyrs, paying particular attention to Endo's confessional style of exploring his doubts and his faith in his fiction.]

When World War II ended in 1945 there was not a single active Christian writer in Japan. By 1972, when the Christian Literature Society (Kyo Bun Kwan) began publishing its 18-volume anthology of contemporary Christian literature, there were over 20. Of the 12 novelists included in the series, seven are Catholic and five Protestant; of five playwrights, three are Catholic and two Protestant. The anthology was edited by novelists Rinzo Shiina, a Protestant, and Shusaku Endo, a Catholic who is undoubtedly the most popular and widely read Christian writer in Japan.

In a recent issue of Japan Christian Quarterly, Kaname Takado, publisher of the anthology, describes "a Japanese Christian writer's life and work, in a 'heathen' land where Christians are less than I percent of the population, as a threefold struggle: to be a Christian, to be a Japanese and to persevere as a writer." That more than 20 Christian writers had emerged from this struggle was in itself "a miracle," Takado said.

The pre-World War II generation of Christian writers faced the same complex struggle. With the exception of influential Christian apologist Kanzo Uchimura, who had little use for literature anyway, all others lost the battle. Their faith eventually gave way to a kind of humanism, or to a special mode of thought and style known in Japan as "naturalism." None of the Christian writers in the 1945–95 period, however, has renounced the faith. Takado attributes their survival to a clearer grasp of and commitment to the faith.

Endo's readiness to confess gnawing doubts about his own faith or faithfulness suggest an affinity with his prewar predecessors. While genuine, this affinity is partly one of style, a confessional style that issued from the Christian encounter with Japan of the Meiji years (1868–1912). A brief look at that encounter may be useful to appreciating Endo's tenacity.

Literary critic Katsuichiro Kamei has identified five developments in the Meiji era that helped shape modern Japanese literature. The first was the translation of the Bible into Japanese; another was Masahisa Uemura's Japanese translation of Christian hymns. Other factors were the translation of Russian literature by Shimei Futabatei, translations of German poetry by Ogai Mori and essays by Tohoku Kitamura, one of the first Japanese writers attracted to Christianity. These factors all helped to shape what Kamei called the "spiritual revolution" that followed the political and social revolution carried out by Meiji leaders.

A spiritual revolution involves the emotions, and it was in the concomitant "emotional revolution" of the late Meiji years that translated hymns played a crucial role, providing a new poetic language that allowed adequate expression of the faith confession that lies at the heart of Christian experience. From this language, says Kamei, a Buddhist, the Japanese learned about the act and meaning of confession, something which had no precedent in Japanese tradition. Buddhism has a sense of penitence, but nothing like the awakening of self in the modern European sense. From the hymns and the Bible, and from the church attendance common among young intellectuals at the time, aspiring Meiji writers came to realize that, as Kamei says, there is such a thing as "the freedom to confess."

Kamei also realized that it is impossible to transpose meaning fully from one language to another. Words in each language have nuances that are linked to native concepts and customs. The appeal of translations is "the spell they cast on us by the mirage-like charm of taking the language, thought and feelings of another place and people and grafting them into the life and pulse of our own." Kamei claims that "excellent translations of the Bible and hymns possessed the power to penetrate the hearts of Japanese people and actually evoked responses of faith."

Along with the reformation of language born of the emotional and spiritual revolutions, there was another crucial formative factor: the freedom of romantic love. In the strict Confucian world of premodern Japan the straightforward literary treatment of sexual matters was taboo, and open treatment of sexuality did not appear in literature until after World War II. But the reality of romantic love, so widely acknowledged in prewar literature, provoked a heightened sense of sin. This gave rise to a serious tension between religion and literature, then to the exaggerated tendency among a large coterie of writers to dwell on the ugly and harsh dimensions of human nature, the trend known as naturalism.

Some of the writers immersed in this naturalist mode seemed grossly egocentric and self-indulgent. Yet at its best this mode became a secularized tell-it-like-it-is confessional style that contemporary Japanese writers have adopted as a way of attesting to their own sincerity. Endo has made himself a master of this style: much of his writing is autobiographical in its source if not in its specifics. What sets Endo apart from prewar writers is that he uses the confessional expression of his doubts and failings as a way of indicating how doggedly determined he is to hang on to his faith. This point is particularly evident in the 11 stories compiled in The Final Martyrs and in the novel Deep River, ably translated by Brigham Young University scholar Van C. Gessel. (Deep River has recently been made into a film by Kei Kumai.)

In a 1973 essay, Endo described his sense of distance from both Christianity and its European cultural setting. At his mother's insistence and his sister's bidding, he was baptized at age 11. He enjoyed an untroubled boyhood until he entered prep school, where he discovered that his faith was a "ready-made suit that did not fit." At the university he majored in French literature and read many European "conversion accounts." They seemed to him like a return to one's hometown. By contrast, his own journey of faith was not a homeward-bound journey; instead, it filled him with "the anguish of an alien." The first Japanese student to study overseas after the war, he was in France for two and a half years and his loneliness was acute. But his main problem was his intense sense of distance not only from European culture and sensibilities, but even more from Westernized Christianity. Hence his first aim as an aspiring writer was to make "far-away Christianity" into something close and familiar for the Japanese.

In this endeavor he needed to develop a suitable style, and in his first medium-length novel, White Man (1955), he apparently found the key, for it won him the coveted Akutagawa Prize for promising new writers. The crowning success of this initial phase of his writing was Silence (1966), the story of a foreign missionary in Nagasaki during the early 17th century persecution of the Christians. The missionary's inherited image of Christ is of a Jesus of majesty and power, an orderly Jesus who is himself governed by order. The hero, like many of his Japanese associates, is forced by his persecutors to tread on a fumie plaque with an image of Christ or the Holy Mother Mary. Refusing to step on the plaque meant torture and death; the alternative was betrayal and renunciation of faith. The threatened hero sees in the fumie an image worn smooth by the footsteps of broken spirited apostates: the face of a Christ who suffers as we suffer.

Endo credits critic Jun Eto with having clearly seen that "the face of Jesus on the fumie is the mother's face in Japan." He notes Erich Fromm's distinction between mother-religion and father-religion. In the latter, God is to be feared; he gets angry, judges and punishes. Mother religion is different: God treats us as a mother treats a bad child. She forgives and suffers with us. For this distinction Endo need not have relied on Fromm alone. Most East Asian countries have a strong shamanistic tradition wherein the gods, often female, are nurturing and forgiving. In contrast to this is the enduring and dominant Confucian tradition, which is more interested in order than in deity; like a traditional father, it is ethically rigid and demanding, and fully capable of anger and punishment.

In any case, Endo found that European Christianity overemphasized the paternal, judgmental aspect of religion, and neglected the maternal, nurturing, forgiving side of faith. Silence marked the end of the period in which he focused on rectifying this imbalance.

Most of Endo's themes recur throughout his works, as evidenced in The Final Martyrs. The title story concerns the "far away Christianity" resisted by Japanese culture, and the pain of apostasy. "Adieu" reflects the alienation he felt while studying in France. In "Shadows" and "The Last Supper" we find the compassion of Jesus for sinful weaklings. Endo's confessional style is particularly vivid in several stories that draw on his childhood in China, and his parents' divorce in 1933. The theme of paternal-maternal tension underlies "Heading Home," a story of his mother's funeral. A Japanese priest serving in the Philippines returns home, a stolen dog finds his way home and now his mother has headed home (heaven). Maybe, Endo implies, he too will someday make it home. The more forthrightly autobiographical "A Sixty Year Old Man" suggests Endo's struggle to be a faithful Christian/Japanese/writer by exposing his vague temptations to flirt with teenage girls at the very time he was trying to rewrite his Life of Jesus. Only "The Box" touches on the problem of indigenous worldview: it depicts a sincere European woman, trapped in wartime Japan and desperate for food, who is cruelly betrayed by the secret police—an ugly picture of a supreme state that renders all else relative and thus dispensable.

The stories of The Final Martyrs, with publication dates ranging from 1959 to 1985, are a good sampling of his style and themes. But there is no distinct thread that indicates Endo's own consciousness of the evolution of his work. The inclusion of an essay like "The Anguish of an Alien" would have served this purpose well.

Endo has labored to depict Jesus as one who is not the all-powerful, majestic Jesus, but one who stands with us an ever-faithful companion. He undertook seven visits to Israel with a twofold goal: to create a portrait of Jesus that would ring true to Japanese readers, and to construct a background that drew on more than his own subjective feelings. The result was a novel, Around the Dead Sea, and a critical biography, The Life of Jesus, both issued in 1973.

What impressed Endo most during his sojourns in Israel was the absence of rivers like those he knew in Japan. The one river that looks like a river, he said, is the Jordan; but it is too small to be called a river, and it is framed by bleak wilderness, not fields and villages. It falls short of the river as the image of the flow of humanity. But then he visited India, where he saw people burn their dead and throw the ashes into the Ganges. "I also saw them lay the corpse of a child in a small boat and set it adrift in that mother river. The land that gave birth to the religion in which Jesus was brought up is a land without a mother river. I think perhaps Jesus himself suffered from this lack."

If it sounds audacious to suggest that Jesus suffered a cultural handicap, consider this: Endo suggests that Jesus found a substitute for a mother river in the Sea of Galilee. It was from this lake region that Jesus drew together his community of followers—those who would betray and forsake him, but then become men of conviction and boldly spread their faith in him.

Deep River grew from Endo's discovery of the Ganges and from his effort to rediscover a face of Jesus that would appeal to the "pagan" sensibilities of the Japanese. His confessional instincts produce in the novel a generous range of Japanese characters. They are brought together when they happen to join the same sightseeing tour of India. Isobe has recently lost his wife to cancer, and is on a vague and somewhat guilty search for her in some reincarnated form. Mitsuko is a bitchy divorcée who has faked everything in life, including love; she has no admitted goal except a curious longing to find a man named Otsu, whom she once seduced. Kiguchi seeks expiation; during a desperate retreat in Burma during Japan's Asian war, he had eaten the flesh of a fallen comrade. The tour guide Enami came to India to study religion, but he works as a guide to make a living; he is both the prism that provides the reader with insights into India's realities and the mirror that reflects the crassness of culturally illiterate tourists.

While each member of the party finds some solution to his or her problem, the story focuses on the strange reunion of Mitsuko with Otsu, whose former awkwardness as a student is now magnified by his status as a Catholic priest—or his nonstatus, for he is constantly reprimanded by his superiors for some discrepancy or perversion of traditional doctrine or practice. An outcast from his own religious community, Otsu locates the corpses of the poor who have no one to carry their bodies to the cremation site, and casts their ashes into the Ganges. He does this because he believes that if "that man" were here, he would do the same.

The Japanese tourists are appalled that he puts the ashes of the dead into a river teeming with worshipers who not only bathe in but also drink from its waters. Mitsuko is equally repelled by Otsu's weird calling, for she sees Otsu's God as impotent and pathetic. Yet in the end she wades into the murky waters.

Mitsuko turned her body it the direction of the river's flow.

"This is not a real prayer. I'm just pretending to pray," she rationalized, embarrassed at herself. "Like my fabrications of love, this is just a fabricated prayer."

At the end of her range of vision, the river gently bent, and there the light sparkled, as though it were eternity itself.

I have learned, though, that there is a river of humanity. Though I still don't know what lies at the end of that flowing river. But I feel as though I've started to understand what I was yearning for through all the many mistakes of my past.

She clutched her fist tightly and searched for the figure of Otsu beside the funeral pyres.

What I can believe in now is the sight of all these people, each carrying his or her own individual burdens, praying at this deep river. At some point, the words Mitsuko muttered to herself were transmuted into the words of a prayer. I believe that the river embraces these people and carries them away. A river of humanity. The sorrows of this deep river of humanity. And I am part of it.

She did not know to whom she directed this manufactured prayer. Perhaps it was towards the Onion [Otsu's playful word for God] that Otsu pursued. Or perhaps it was towards something great and eternal that could not be limited to the Onion.

When Silence was first published, its harshest critics were Catholics. Deep River may also spark criticism, for Endo suggests that the many faces of God are seen not only in Christianity and Judaism but also in Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Worse, he has embraced universalism: the whole of humanity is ultimately embraced by the eternal arms of the mother river. Acceptance of Endo's version of Indian spirituality is also uncertain in the pragmatic, materialist ethos of Japan. Still, an emphasis on the awesome mystery of godhead and the wondrous ambiguity of humanity may be welcomed in a jaded postmodern world.

That, however, is not Endo's primary concern. He has always been suspicious of the term "Christian literature," for that generally turns out to be mere apologetics. There is only literature, and sometimes the writer is a baptized Christian. "If the Christianity that I believe in, that I am trying to believe in, that I want to believe in all my life, is really the truth, then it is not a violin solo that plays the tune of only one aspect of [our] inner self. Rather it should be an orchestra that responds to all the chords of [our] being, just because it is [ours], good or bad."

If literature is to deal with the fullness of humanity, then it must be able to go beyond psychological novels, or those which tackle the unconscious. It must forge its way into a third dimension: "the territory of demons." Endo does not boast that his work always gets into the demonic, but he feels that his efforts to do so set his work apart. If it does, it is because, as he says, "I have to read the Bible. It is the supreme work of literature. It excels Greek tragedy and other drama in describing man's struggle with the transcendent."

Leslie Schenk (review date Winter 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Deep River, in World Literature Today, Vol. 70, No. 1, Winter, 1996, p. 240.

[In the following review, Schenk admits that there are some fascinating aspects to Endo's Deep River, but complains that "a faint air of absurdity hovers over the entire enterprise."]

Endo Shusaku is considered by many Japanese to be the last of his generation's great novelists, and indeed some expected him to be his nation's next Nobel Prize winner. Whether any Japanese critics or common readers entertain doubts about Endo's pseudophilosophic religiosity we shall never know, for Japanese critics are not there to criticize but to praise; anything less would be shitsurei or impolite. The fact remains that Endo is a Roman Catholic writer in a nominally Buddhist country. Up till now, his distinguished career has been entirely consecrated to the study of "the extraordinary difficulty that Christianity has had in taking root in Japan" (Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan).

In Deep River Endo tackles various faiths—Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, and whatever it is that Shirley MacLaine believes in—omitting Islam. The question surely must arise in some minds whether the novel is the appropriate forum for such exposition and development, but the novel is Endo's medium and he sticks to it. Endo really is a great novelist—he knows how to set up a scene, differentiate his characters, make the reader care what happens next, handle dialogue, et cetera—but alas, in Deep River at least, his characters become little more than bearers of their creator's ideas. We are given thumbnail sketches of these characters from the river of life, who all become pilgrims to the river of death, the Ganges. Consider:

1) While Numada underwent a possibly fatal operation, his caged myna bird died in his place, he thinks, and Numada goes to India to buy another caged myna to release it into nature, to repay his debt. Now this is a lovely tale in the context of Shinto, a celebration of life and nature, but in a contemporary, supposedly realistic novel …?

2) Isobe's wife's last words to him before dying were, "I know for sure I'll be reborn somewhere in this world. Look for me, find me, promise!" Isobe hears of a "scientific" study of "previous lives" at the University of Virginia, according to which an Indian child claims her previous life was lived as a Japanese. Isobe sets off for India to find her. Reincarnation along the wheel of samsara while awaiting Nirvana is of course a beautiful link with other aspects of Buddhism, but in a contemporary novel …?

3) Otsu was a Catholic novice who could never achieve ordination due to his stubbornness in maintaining that all religions contain some truths leading to the same goal. He calls Jesus his Onion (sic). He ends up helping Hindus bear corpses to the burning ghats of the Ganges. The one justification for his pantheistic view is a quotation from Gandhi, fortunately in its original English, so that it rings out as the one unassailable statement in the entire novel—not exactly a tribute to Endo's philosophic ingenuity.

4) It occurs to Mitsuko that her life parallels the life of the eponymous Therese Desqueyroux in François Mauriac's novel, from which many passages are quoted in support of her theory. Borrowing another novelist's characterization is rather a cheap way of characterizing one member of a new novel's cast of characters, is it not?

5) Finally, coincidences abound and are supposed to have deep significance beyond words. Well, a word does exist for this particular stretch of the imagination, and it is blarney.

Do these pilgrims to the Ganges find what they are looking for? Does Endo? Deep River has its fascinating aspects, I would not deny, but for me a faint air of absurdity hovers over the entire enterprise.

To boot, Endo is only partly well served by his translator, notwithstanding that Gessel is probably one of the best around. Typical of so many American translators from the Japanese, including the dean of them all, his hold on his source language is stronger than his hold on his target language, his native tongue. He does not translate into the level of International Standard English commensurate with his highly literary Japanese text, but rather into a kind of middling American vernacular (although punctuation and spellings in this edition are British). Stuff rather than things, stretch her wings rather than spread, and ambiguous contractions like he'd proliferate not only in dialogue but even in narrative passages, which is unforgivable. Frequently the plural their avoids the "sexist" his or her, as "When an individual dies, their spirit goes into a state of limbo." (Yet there are such easy ways to avoid this: "The spirit of an individual who dies goes into a state of limbo.")

Nevertheless, Deep River, highly praised elsewhere, is to be read, if with a grain of salt. Here is a passage, perfectly trans-lated, that will tell you whether to plunge in:

While [Isobe] was killing time in the gift shop … he discovered both Shirley MacLaine's Out on a Limb and Professor Stevenson's Children Who Remember Previous Lives propped in a corner of the display window, labelled as best-sellers. This seemed less like a coincidence than the workings of some invisible power [and] he couldn't stifle the feeling that his dead wife had been pushing him from behind, directing him towards the display window. Without even thinking, he bought the books.

If you can take that, this book is for you.

Further Reading

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Criticism

Mathy, S.J., Francis. A review of The Final Martyrs. America (19 November 1994): p. 28.

Discusses the themes found in Endo's The Final Martyrs which can be traced to Endo's other work.

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