Summary: Five Easy Pieces, Vintage Endo
Comment: Mr. Endo is a rarity: a Japanese Catholic novelist, a literary Sadao Watanabe. His Catholicism and literary studies in Europe have made him the most accessible of Japanese novelists to the western reader. Those who know and appreciate his work will welcome these five short stories, and will recognize his usual style and typical concerns. A novelist retraces the steps of the Christian martyrs of Shimabara, but he is more interested in and identified with the apostate who agonizes spiritually because he did not have the faith to suffer physically. Japanese tourists on the make and their impassive guide wander Warsaw and find in the strangest of places St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish missionary to Japan who died in Auschwitz. A box of old postcards uncovers the secret life of a missionary's daughter during wartime Japan. A fifty-year old man takes dancing lessons amid intimations of mortality. A man who could not share his feelings with his wife watches her die and then wonders about her possible reincarnation. The last of these short stories is in fact the opening chapter of the novel "Deep River," but it becomes more intriguing on its own. Those who don't know Endo yet will find this a tasty and representative sampling of his work. Van C. Gessel, who has translated at least six Endo novels, has provided a very readable text.
Summary: Five By Endo
Comment: If ever there were an author who could wedge a knife into the cracks of the human soul, it must be Shusaku Endo.
In these five stories -- Unzen, A Fifty-Year-Old Man, Japanese In Warsaw, The Box, and The Case of Isobe -- Endo draws back the curtain on a group of people obsessed with such themes as cowardice, sex, martyrdom, death and the love of animals.
With bleak eloquence and hard-edged compassion, Endo creates a banquet of irony and emotion that succeeds in filling the void created by 95% of modern fiction.
If you are weary of the predictable and formulaic fiction churned out by the big publishing houses, I recommend this slim volume. Shusaku Endo's stories feel like a gust of cold, clean and pungent mountain air from the top of Japan's highest mountains.