Sunday, May 31, 2009

Deep River by Shusaku Endo

This book review is my third one as part of the 1% Well-Read Challenge where I am reading one book per month from the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list...

This book is written by critically acclaimed Japanese author Shusaku Endo with translation by Van G. Gessel.

This book is about a group of Japanese tourists who travel to Hindu's Holy City of Varanasi and the River Ganges. As the group witnesses tremendous displays of religiousity, spirituality and faith, the reader is privy to each character's internal dialogue and how each person psychologically processes the experience-- either finding or failing to find their own faith.

Isobe is grieving for his dead wife whom he ignored his whole life; Kiguchi is haunted by his memories of The Road to Death in the jungles of Burma during WWII; and Numada is recovering from a serious illness and has found great strength from his relationships with animals. But, it is the last two characters, Otsu and Mitsuko, who are my favorites...

Mitsuko, is a cynical young woman who lacks a spiritual compass yet is smart enough to grapple with her internal emptiness and search for meaning within her unhappy life -- though in a very selfish way. Mitsuko and Otsu first cross paths in College where Mitsuko notices him for his determination to do good and pursue his path to God, though he is cast as a nerd and socially backward. Mituko toys with him, and on the dare of her mean friends, Otsu becomes the brunt of a cruel and harsh joke set out to debase him and rock him from his sense of "goodness".

They both leave college, Mitsuko goes on searching for something to fill the void within herself and Otsu goes on to a seminary to attempt to become a Catholic Priest -- when he ultimately fails to be accepted to official religious life by the Catholics, the Buddhists, and the Hindu monks -- because he refuses to accept ONE relgious path at the exclusion of all others -- he ends up serving the poor and being poor himself -- the ultimate imitator of Christ on earth - and Mitsuko can't help but seek him out over and over again throughout the novel-- to tempt him, to revile him, to spit upon him, and yes, ultimately, in order to love herself.

The reader is taken on a spiritual journey as the characters make their pilgrimage to the Holy City of Varanasi and we are left to our own internal inquiry as the author builds a critique of modern society -- a society that seems to lack moral substance and is headed nowhere.

I can't tell you much more than that without giving it away. But this book is powerfully written and the reader's course is well-plotted so that we, too, are on a religious pilgrimage, if we allow ourselves the debate.

Shusaku Endo is a prize-winning Japanese writer and one of his novels, Silence, about two Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan in the 17th century, is being made into a movie by Martin Scorsese for release in 2010. Evidently, Mr. Scorsese was also moved by Shusaku Endo's work. I commend him for shunning the big-explosion, mass-movie appeal of the spiritually-shallow modern blockbuster, and deciding to produce and direct a movie that deals with the journey of mankind to find God. Mr. Scorsese understands that this one may not pack the movie theaters like Spiderman but says, "this one is done for the heart." Bravo!

I recommend this book highly and will definitely be reading other books by Shusaku Endo. My book for June in the 1% Well-Read Challenge is Snow by Orhan Pamuk.


verobirdie said...

Thank you for this review. I made a note for my next visit to the library.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Wow, what a fine review!
This book is an absolute "must read" on my list...thanks so much.

Scorsese has taken up heavy spiritual themes beflore: "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Kundun" come to mind. I am so glad he is exploring Hinduism with this next movie....and you can imagine the gorgeous Indian textiles he will weave into his storytelling, too. He never stints on the textiles, God bless him!

Bobbi Pohl said...

What a coincidence. I'm reading "Snow" now. I first read Pamuk's book, "My Name is Red," and liked it, but this one I'm finding a bit of a slog. I'll be interested to see what you think of it.

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