(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Set twelve years after the end of World War II, Wonderful Fool tells the story of Gaston (Gas) Bonaparte, a failed French seminary student and a bona fide descendant of Napoleon himself who decides to forgo formal church endorsement and travel to Japan as a missionary. Having met a native Japanese through correspondence, he embarks upon a spiritual adventure, hoping to use the home of Takamori, a clerk, and his sister, Tomoe, as his “base.”

While reading one of Gas’s poorly written letters in broken Japanese, Takamori realizes with some horror that Gas is coming to visit them. Unimaginative and unsentimental, they harbor no suspicions about his plans to spread, independent of his church, the news of faith and love to the long-neglected Orient. Instead they conjure images of a French nobleman or film star who will honor them with his visit. When Gas arrives in Japan on a third-rate steamer, they find it unusual and unsettling. Upon first acquaintance, both Takamori and Tomoe feel betrayed; a descendant of Napoleon should not be a bumbling, clumsy oaf, “a tramp with the body of a horse.” However well-intentioned, he clearly is utterly ineffectual, unable to speak or understand Japanese except in the most primitive way, and thus completely ill-prepared for cross-cultural communication.

Their trip to a sushi bar on the way home from the shipyard becomes emblematic of the way in which the gangly, uncoordinated Frenchman consistently scandalizes his hosts. Brandishing a Japanese loincloth—given to him by a malevolent sailor on...

(The entire section is 640 words.)