Wednesday, January 25, 2006

One by Endo

I finished one of the best books I've ever read. Again. It's Scandal by Shusaku Endo. I've commented on Endo's work before; he's one of the best authors you will ever read, the Japanese Graham Greene. Book space is dear at our house, but I have eight of his books on my shelf.

Here's Scandal on Amazon. I wrote a spoiler-free review there, but others gave away more than I would have. So here it is:

Scandal is the story of an acclaimed Japanese Christian novelist in old age named Suguro. At an awards ceremony honoring his distinguished career, Suguro hears disquieting rumors that he has been seen carousing in the red-light district. He enters the district to investigate the rumors and safeguard his reputation, but is unprepared for what, and who, he finds there.

Shusaku Endo uses this story as a kind of autobiography, accurate in depth of feeling, if not character and circumstance. He said in his A Life of Jesus that he thought of the Gospels as collectively forming a true portrait of Jesus, even where he saw them as fuzzy on the details. That is a good way to read Scandal, as a portrait of Endo.

Suguro struggles with old age, oncoming death, and the dissonance between his private self and his public reputation as an upstanding Christian. In many ways, Suguro is forced to confront himself; he learns that the foundations he has built his life upon are unsound, even his work, his marriage, and his religion. Endo's unflinching portrayal of himself in the figure of Suguro is thus poignant and, at times, tragic.

Scandal is about, among other things, a man going to a dangerous, uncertain place with his religion. Some religious people will not want to follow him there. On the other hand, this is not an exclusively Christian novel, and readers of any religion, or none, would have much to gain from it.

It is helpful, but not necessary, to have read some of Endo's other work to put Scandal in context. Silence and A Life of Jesus are classics. At least ten other works are in English translation.

Scandal is so rich and complex, and finally, so human, that it practically requires a second reading. But I am beginning to find that each time I read it, I demand another reading myself. I doubt that I will ever come to the end of it.

It's hard to explain further than that unless you've read the book, which I hereby suggest you all do.

No comments: