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The Left-behind Jesus
Now in his seventies, Shusaku Endo continues to write. "Deep River" (New Directions, 216 pp.; $19.95), published in English translation in 1995, revisits many of the themes of the earlier novels--trips abroad, a shattered faith, a bumbling fool--but explores the new territory of comparative religion.
A Japanese tour group visits a holy city on the banks of the Ganges in India. Thus modern materialists and Buddhists of varying levels of commitment encounter some of the beliefs of Hinduism.
Each of the travelers has his or her own story of emptiness and loss, and the river with its animal corpses and human ashes floating by comes to symbolize the final swampland of life. Yet once again a Christ-figure lurks in the background: Otsu, a clumsy, homely Japanese seminarian who was found unfit for ordination when he expressed his belief that "God has many faces, and … exists in all religions." Rejected by his order but still seeking to follow Jesus, he spends his days helping men and women of the lowest castes fulfill their last wish of dying by the Ganges.
Also in 1995, an early novel by Endo, "The Girl I Left Behind" (New Directions, 194 pp.; $21.95), was published in English for the first time.
A naive young woman, Mitsu, treated with casual brutality, chooses to live in a leprosarium where she can help the nuns who minister there. In an afterword, Endo frankly acknowledges the book's flaws. Nevertheless, he writes,
Through the medium of this novel, I sought to portray the drama of "the Jesus I left behind." Mitsu can be seen as modelled on Jesus, abandoned by his own disciples; she is modelled on the Jesus whom all Christians are guilty of abandoning on a daily basis in their everyday lives. Mitsu has continued to live with me ever since and can be seen reincarnated in my most recent novel, "Deep River," in the person of the protagonist, Otsu. It is my profound wish that my readers will acknowledge the connection between these two novels.
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