Friday, December 16, 2016
A passage to India - from Japan - in Shusaku Endo's Deep River
OK so the ending of Shusaku Endo's Deep River is a little melodramatic as the various plot strands - each strand is the story of a "seeker," as if the Japanese tour group visiting Japan is analogous to a holy pilgrimage, with each pilgrim on a different quest for spiritual fulfillment - converge on the banks of, or in the water of, the Ganges(the literal Deep River of the title, but the title also represents the need for a spiritual crossing, from the material to the spiritual, from sin to salvation). But it's still a well-constructed plot, despite the several narrative threads - a man (Isobe) hoping to encounter the re-incarnation of his wife, a woman hoping to find the holy man whom she had tormented in their youth, the man (Otsu) hoping to find salvation while maintaining his role as Catholic priest but serving the most ill and impoverished people in India (he's the only one not on the tour of Japan), an author of children's books trying to understand why he writes about talking birds and other animals (and not about people), a war veteran hoping to heal the psychological wounds of his fighting in Southeast Asia, an oblivious newly wed husband hoping to become a great photographer and indifferent to the feelings and beliefs of those whom he photographs (this strand developed a little too late in the novel, in my view). To Endo's great credit, he doesn't build this toward a happy ending in which everyone finds fulfillment - there's tragedy at the end, and disappointment, but also, for some of the character, renewed hope and comprehension. Throughout, there is much talk about religion and spirituality in all forms and in multiple faiths, as one might expect in a serious novel about visitors to India. In some ways, it's like an Asian version of A Passage to India - some of the characters finding the beauty of the land, and others retreating in despair. All told, a pretty impressive novel by an author little known in the U.S. to date - but who perhaps will find new readers in that Scorsese directed an adaptation of another Endo novel, Silence - which I think is also about themes of faith and self-abnegation.