Summary

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Last Updated June 27, 2024.

Introduction

Wonderful Fool is a novel by Japanese writer Shusaku Endō. It was first published in 1959 as a serial in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Set a decade after World War II, it addresses the author's perceived crisis of spirituality in modern, secularized Japan.  

As one of Japan's few Catholic writers, Endō created a Christlike figure in the novel's main character, Gaston Bonaparte. His influences for the novel are often cited as French Catholic writers such as François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos, whom he studied at the University of Lyon in France. Endō's Christian beliefs separate him from his contemporaries in the "Third Generation" of writers in post-war Japanese literature.

Plot Summary

One day in March, Takamori receives a letter from Gaston, his French pen pal, allegedly related to Napoleon Bonaparte. Excited that Gaston will visit Japan soon, he convinces his sister Tomoe to host the Frenchman in their home. Upon Gaston's arrival, however, Tomoe is disappointed to discover that he is a horse-faced oaf—far from the dashing gentleman she had pictured. 

At Gaston's welcoming dinner, he embarrasses Tomoe by feeding a stray dog. Soon after, the siblings bring Gaston to Shinjuku, where they are harassed by a group of thugs. While Takamori and Tomoe can escape, Gaston suffers a beating. He does not fight back, which puzzles and endears him to the siblings. That night, Gaston insists on leaving their home and exploring Japan alone. 

Gaston adopts the stray dog from earlier, naming it Napoleon, and checks into a motel in Shibuya. Shortly after, he is kicked out of the establishment for helping a prostitute escape—not knowing that she has stolen her client's wallet. Fortunately, she introduces Gaston to Chotei Kawaii, an old fortuneteller who agrees to take him in.  

The following day, Chotei brings Gaston to the street corner where he works. While he is away, Gaston is abducted by a gangster named Endo, who demands his help in avenging his brother's death. They spend the night at a seedy inn in Sanya, where Gaston runs into the prostitute from before. She urges him to flee, but Endo intervenes and beats her. 

Endo reveals to Gaston that the man he wants to murder, Kanai, is one of the military officials who had framed Endo's brother for a crime he didn't commit—resulting in his execution. The two pretend to be proprietors of a prostitution ring and lure Kanai to a nearby construction site. However, Endo fails to kill him because Gaston has secretly removed the bullets from his pistol. 

Kanai escapes, and Endo beats Gaston out of anger. The locals find Gaston's unconscious body and turn him over to the police, who return the Frenchman to Takamori and Tomoe. While Gaston is happy to be reunited with the siblings, he insists on looking for Napoleon. They learn from Chotei that the dog has been captured and brought to the local pound. Gaston rushes to the dog's rescue but is too late—Napoleon is dead. 

Napoleon's death pushes Gaston to save Endo from his self-destructive path. He finds Endo in Yamagata, having already extracted a confession from Kobayashi, another one of the men behind his brother's death. During the war, Kobayashi and Kanai ordered civilians to bury some silver bars that the Japanese government had confiscated. They then killed these civilians and framed Endo's brother for the crime. 

Endo forces Kobayashi to lead him and Gaston to the silver bars buried in a swamp in the mountains. The arduous climb aggravates Endo's tuberculosis, so he orders Gaston to retrieve the silver while he keeps watch over Kobayashi. At one point,...

(This entire section contains 785 words.)

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Gaston sinks into the swamp and cries to Endo for help. Kobayashi takes advantage of this moment of distraction and hits Endo's hand with a shovel, sending his pistol flying.

Upon seeing Kobayashi swinging at Endo with the shovel, Gaston rushes to shield him and takes a heavy blow to the head. Kobayashi continues to beat Gaston, allowing Endo to retrieve his pistol. He cannot bring himself to pull the trigger, however, as Gaston begs him to spare the man's life. Endo ends up collapsing from stress and exhaustion, allowing Kobayashi to escape. 

While Endo's unconscious body is found soon after, Gaston appears to have disappeared. The police interrogate Takamori and Tomoe, who have been searching for the Frenchman all over Yamagata. They rifle through Gaston's belongings and find his notebook, wherein he had written about his dreams of becoming a missionary priest. While the siblings are baffled by Gaston's disappearance, their brief time with this "wonderful fool" has led them to adopt a more positive outlook on life. 

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