Wonderful Fool Critical Context
by Shūsaku Endō

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Wonderful Fool may be seen as a transitional work between End’s earlier, lighter works set in contemporary Japan but untranslated into English, and his better-known and more serious historical fiction represented in Chimmoku (1966; Silence, 1969) and Samurai (1980; The Samurai, 1982). Wonderful Fool bridges these two periods of End’s work by demonstrating his versatility as a novelist with a penchant for combining humor and pathos in the pursuit of serious themes. In Wonderful Fool, End’s comic narrative style complements a maturing grasp of plot structure to elucidate End’s central themes. Its backdrop and, indeed, the backdrop of all End’s works, is the congenital failure of Japanese culture to nurture a transcendent faith and to recognize its eternal relevance for its people. In his oeuvre End attempts to craft an authentically Eastern vision of Christian faith obstinate enough to endure even in soils which have never been fertile for its growth.

The Christian vision of Shsaku End revealed in Wonderful Fool thus has at its center a dramatically Eastern Jesus, the humble but single-minded “fool” who abandons all to reach those who are not so much hostile as they are indifferent, not so much faithless as they are cynical. This “foolish” Jesus—distinguished from the often bombastic and authoritarian Jesus imported from the West—drives his readers beyond the shallow, impotent Christianity lurking behind much of modern faith. To reach them, End is challenged to defamiliarize Christ in His conventionally distant and supernaturally holy character, portraying Him instead as a profoundly tender, self-sacrificing, and moral human being—an elder brother, not an omnipotent Lord.