Stained-Glass Elegies

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The stories deal with two essential experiences: what it means to be a Roman Catholic in Japan, and the agonies of extended hospitalization. Together they constitute the central challenges of the author’s own life. In his youth during World War II, Shusaku Endo endured a form of house arrest for his pacifism at a Christian college dormitory; later in life, he went through a lengthy hospitalization for massive lung surgery.

Throughout his fiction, the sufferings of the victimized believer or disillusioned idealist are often connected symbolically with the sufferings of aging and illness. Historical Christian martyrdom, personal memories of humiliation, the failures of marriage and career, and the emotional and physical harvest of a lifetime of bitter moments all interpenetrate in stories of medical trial (“A Forty-Year-Old-Man”), religious persecution (Fuda-no-Tsuji”), and ordinary despair (“My Belongings”).

Dispelling the gloom, several stories assert hope. The mynah bird in “A Forty-Year-Old-Man” observes the protagonist’s pain with infinite pity and emerges as a Christ symbol. The story “Old Friends,” which closes this collection, ends on a note of indestructible faith when an old European priest, tortured during the war by the Japanese on suspicion of espionage, casually announces that spring always returns.

In addition to hope there is laughter. A naive young doctor in “Incredible Voyage,” a science-fiction fantasy (actually a parody of the 1966 American film FANTASTIC VOYAGE), is miniaturized and enters his sweetheart’s bloodstream to operate on a tumor. He ends up blocked in her large intestine, and flatulence becomes the agent of deliverance.

Ghostly and impish, serenely illuminating and searchingly honest--all these epithets apply to the storytelling of one of Japan’s most honored and celebrated writers.

Stained-Glass Elegies

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

When asked about his fiction, Shsaku End has said that the subtleties of contact between Oriental and Western experience are at the center of his art. This is not surprising. He himself has experienced at firsthand the passion of Roman Catholic commitment in twentieth century Japan. The martyrdom of early Japanese Catholics in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was mirrored for End in the persecutions that he experienced as a young man. During World War II, Christian affiliation was considered a less than patriotic connection. Japan’s life-and-death struggle with the Allies did not encourage tolerance of Western institutions. Even if, like Catholicism, such institutions were already well enough established to withstand the first attacks of the government, it eventually became necessary to punish “Europeanism” with isolating measures. End was subjected to a form of house arrest at a Christian college dormitory throughout the war years for his pacifism.

The stories in this collection add new stature to an international reputation already secured by several novels. Irving Howe was moved to the following praise after reading End’s most recent novel, The Samurai (1980): “ surely one of the most accomplished writers now living in Japan or anywhere else.” End’s many literary prizes won in Japan testify to his reputation among his own countrymen despite the marginality of his principal theme: Christian identity in a non-Christian society. Silence (1969), his best-known work, sold more than eight hundred thousand copies in Japan alone. John Updike called it “a remarkable work, a startlingly emphatic study of a young Portuguese missionary during the relentless persecutions of Japanese Christians in the early seventeenth century.”

Stained-Glass Elegies largely supports End’s contention that he is primarily a writer about religious feeling at odds with cultural or personal reality. “Fuda-no-Tsuji” is a story in which a site associated with early Japanese...

(The entire section is 826 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 10)

Booklist. LXXXI, May 1, 1985, p. 1236.

Kirkus Reviews. LIII, February 1, 1985, p. 99.

Library Journal. CX, May 1, 1985, p. 76.

Listener. CXIII, January 10, 1985, p. 24.

New Statesman. CVIII, September 21, 1984, p. 29.

The New York Times Book Review. XC, July 21, 1985, p. 21.

The Observer. December 2, 1984, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXVII, February 1, 1985, p. 350.

Times Literary Supplement. October 26, 1984, p. 1223.

Washington Post Book World. XV, June 23, 1985, p. 10.