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

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Excellent beginning to S Endo's novel Deep River

Started reading Shusaku Endo's 1994 novel Deep River - he's one of those world writers whose name keeps coming up but whom I'd never read and I guess I was prompted to do so by the NYT story about Scorcese adapting his novel Silence (which was not available in my small local library) - and find the narrative complex and compelling; despite its twists and jumps in time and POV, his writing even in translation is crystal clear and emotionally powerful. The first (long) chapter tells of a middle-aged man whose wife is dying of cancer; he's taciturn and serious, not one for excessive communication or expression of emotion. He tries to keep the diagnosis from his wife, but of course she recognizes that she's dying. In her last moments she tells him she is sure she will come back as another consciousness and begs him to look for her. This declaration is alien to everything he's thought or believed - he's a conventional Tokyo businessman - but he will try. In the next chapter we see him with a group of Japanese tourists soon to embark on a visit to India, getting information from their tour guide; as it happens, a woman on the tour was a volunteer aide who cared from his late wife in her last days. Then in Chapter 3 we learn her story: in youth she was a wealthy, attractive, and entirely mean student in a Catholic university in Japan (Tokyo?). Urged by some of her friends, she agrees to taunt a fellow student, an awkward, homely, extremely devout innocent; she fools the young man into thinking she's interested in him, prompts him to get drunk (and ill), urges him to give up his daily attendance at prayers, dares him to denounce Christ. Ultimately, she leads him on sexually for a few days and then tells him to get lost. Later, she marries a crass, brash businessman and they go on a disastrous honeymoon to Paris; she learns that the young man she'd taunted is now a priest in Southern France, goes to visit him, and he in a sense thanks her for mistreating him - which, he says, led to his renewed faith, as he understood that he'd renounced Jesus but Jesus would never forsake the wayward. That's about 25 percent of the novel; very promising beginning.

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