[SS] Five by Endo – Shusaku Endo
January 10, 2010 § 2 Comments
A small book of only 84 pages, Five by Endo is a collection of 5 short stories that explore, among others, Christianity, death and history. This being my first try with Endo’s work, I have to say that there is no better way to be introduced to his thoughts.
The first short story is Unzen, which follows Suguro, an author, as he travels to visit the site where Christians were tortured and executed in 17th century Japan. As he looks around, he is also making a spiritual journey, trying to identify his own beliefs.
Not everyone can become a saint of a martyr. Yet must those who do not qualify as saints be branded forever with the mark of a traitor?
The story also followed some of Suguro’s own projections of what someone who witnessed such torture might have felt and experienced. I have only recently been made aware of Christian uprising and the Shimabara Rebellion. I guess that’s why I like to read so much; it brings me places I’ve never been, and gives me knowledge I would otherwise have never known.
I’ve heard that Silence, a well-known novel by Endo touches on this same subject, and I’m very keen on reading that book soon.
Next is A Fifty-year-old Man, a story about how Chiba faces life, and how he deals with news that his brother and his dog, both so dear to him, are at the brink of death.
As he gazed at the cosmos flowers, Chiba thought of how many people, how many living things he had encountered in his day. But the people with whom he had truly had some connection, and the living things with which he had had a true bond, were few indeed.
There were some reflections back to his childhood, somehow explaining why his dog was so important to him, to the point where his wife would be annoyed. It does touch briefly on the subject of death and how it might affect us still living. But somehow, I feel it lost something by being just a tad too short, maybe?
Japanese in Warsaw follows a group of Japanese tourists as they spend a few days in Warsaw. There, they meet a couple of people who mention Kolbe, a Christian Father most revered by the Polish. Kolbe’s story is related to the tourists, who have no idea who this man was, as one of they would say,
‘I don’t know any of those “Amen” fellows.’
I don’t think I really got past the many layers of this story, as I have no doubt there are. I just didn’t quite follow, and couldn’t get the intended meaning. I hardly felt anything for any of the characters either.
The Box is I think one of the longer stories in this collection. It tells of a person who found an antique box containing a copy of the Bible, and old photo album and some odd postcards.
Things we tend to think of as simple objects – even stones or sticks – have some kind of power living inside them.
Following the tracks left by the postcards, the narrator meets an old man who once knew the lady to whom the box belonged. What follows is the story of the lady, and what happened to her during the war.
It’s a beautiful story of kindness during some very hard times. And that we don’t always have to return an eye for an eye.
Last is The Case of Isobe, which apparently is the first chapter to Endo’s other novel, Deep River. Isobe’s wife has been diagnosed with cancer, and is told that she has only at most 3-4 months left to live.
He began actually talking to his wife after she entered the hospital.
Right before she died, she whispered to her husband, telling him to look for her, as she is sure that she will be reborn. Isobe is hardly convinced, but soon after, he comes across a study on past lives.
There was slight mention of Buddhist beliefs, and since this matter of past lives also touches on reincarnation, there is no doubt that I’m now super interested in reading Deep River as well. The premise is very interesting, and I would just love to know how this story expands in the actual novel.
All in all, this was a good book. If this is a taste of what Endo has to offer, I’m definitely looking forward to reading a full novel of his.
For: Japanese Literature Challenge 3