While searching for the novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo at the local library I came across one of his later novels, “Deep River”. “Silence” is better-known and considered by many to be his masterpiece; Martin Scorsese is planning to film it soon. However, since the library didn’t have “Silence” I decided to give “Deep River” a try, and I’m glad I did. It’s mainly set in India, after all, which is always a draw for me, as I spent so many years there, and it deals with disparate people seeking spiritual truth, which is another theme that interests me.
It’s a fairly short novel, and concerns five Japanese drawn for different personal reasons to Varanasi, the city on the river Ganges where Hindus come to die or dispose of their dead. It begins by giving the background of each character, highlighting the key moments of their lives that lead them to the river. Then it brings them together in a tour group as they work out their various destinies. It’s an elegant book, and what struck me about it was the writer’s courage. It’s obvious that in this novel Endo is struggling with his own inner battles, and his own attempts to reconcile the truths of the religions of Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. What I have read about his life suggests that it is shot through with autobiographical references. But even more, I was struck by his intensely personal, noncommercial method of plotting. I fear I have been too concerned with commercial fiction of late; that is, the necessity of an early hook, drawing the reader in with action, and so on. I admire Endo’s sincerity, which shines through on every page. It is something I have always aspired to but need much more of.
The only problem I had with the book was the translation, which was rudimentary and did not do justice to the elegance of the work. It was obvious in places that the translator was struggling to express what Endo had written. That aside though, I highly recommend the book.
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