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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A profoundly spiritual novel that never feels heavy-handed: Deep River

Endo's novel Deep River is a finely crafted and surprisingly compelling look at the most profound of spiritual issues - a novel about characters in a time of spiritual crisis, examining how they pass through their crises, or don't. It's a Canterbury Tales kind of novel, in a way, as we are with a group of Japanese tourists visiting India, each with his or her own reason for joining the tour, each with his or her own reactions to the difficulties, the exoticism, and the beauty of India. Each chapter is like short story - I think each could stand alone if need be (and I'm not surprised to see that many of Endo's books in translation are in fact story collections) - but the stories tie together by a common thematic thread and by inter-actions among the characters and some narrative development over the course of the novel. The spirituality eluded me at first, but shouldn't have - even the title, as we see in an epigraph, is from an American spiritual. Among the various spiritual pursuits: probably the main character, Isobe, who himself is nonreligious, hears from his dying wife that she is sure she will be reborn, and urges him to seek for her; this leads him to finding info from an American med school about research into rebirth, and he is heading to India to meet with a young woman who claims to have led a past life. The woman who was a volunteer aide taking care of Isobe's wife, as noted in yesterday's post, feels guilt about her youthful tormenting of a young man, Otse, bound for the Catholic priesthood; from his correspondence she (and we) learn that he has not fit in well with the Catholic church as he recognizes the power or all religions - he has been transferred to a monastery in India, and she is in search of him. Another character recounts fighting in Burma during the 2nd World War - it's interesting to read of the suffering of the Japanese troops; we have had a lot of literature about the suffering that the Japanese perpetrated, such as The Narrow Road to the Deep North - and he seeks some spiritual absolution for a friend who suffers guilt over some of the steps they had to take to survive; he goes to India to learn more about the multi-religious culture. A young couple on the tour do nothing but complain about the poor conditions and accommodations. What will happen to them? And another man, an author of children's books about talking animals, is there to observe the bird sanctuaries - like all of the main characters, he suffered and was isolated in youth; as an adult, he has received solace from pet birds. So - lots of strands developed, and we feel we're in the hands of an expert writer who will draw these strands together.

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