Stained Glass Elegies: Stories by Shusaku Endo translated by Van C. Gessel (Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, 1986)

When Basel records the highest temperature in Switzerland, and much of Europe has the temperatures of Florida in July without benefit of Florida's air conditioning, and a recent birth precludes visiting the local swimming pool, let alone fleeing to somewhere high in the Alps, then sitting in front of a fan and reading beats most other activities.  It especially beats sitting with a hot computer on one's lap, so this will be a short review.

Endo is not an author I would have likely come across on my own, but that's the advantage of having someone else's bookshelves at one's disposal.  I chose this book of short stories over the many Endo novels available, on the theory that they would work better in a household punctuated by random baby needs.

Although the themes are decidedly adult, and rather depressing, the stories were good to read and rarely objectionable, even to me.  What I found most fascinating was the glimpse of life from a Japanese point of view.  Recurring motifs, probably somewhat autobiographical, include tuberculosis; hospitals; internal doubts, fears and struggles; war; and the suffering of Christians, both martyrs and apostates, during the time when Japan attempted to stamp out Christianity—and the effect that era has on Japanese Christians today.  "Would I be able to endure torture and death—and the torture and death of my family—without abandoning my faith?" is not a thought most American Christians give serious consideration, but apparently for Endo, a Japanese Catholic in a land where Christians of all sorts make up only 2% of the population, it was a haunting question.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Edit
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Other questions that Endo wrestles with are which Western cloaks Christianity needs to shed again to be as universal as we claim it is, and the question of God not letting us go. He has a few characters who trample the image of Mary and the cross out of fear and cowardice, but then come crawling back as soon as the threat of physical harm is gone - too weak to stand up under the threat of torture, but unable to apostasize. If I remember correctly, he himself became a Catholic as a child and describes himself as one whom God would not let go. It's certainly a different twist on predestination.

Yes, the themes are depressing, and redemption isn't always clearly in sight, but he writes beautifully and explores these themes with a probing honesty that I seem to be unable to find with Protestant writers. Maybe I need to look harder...

Posted by Stephan on Monday, July 12, 2010 at 3:56 am

Yes, the honesty is clear, yet without being nasty, which I greatly appreciate. I agree that the writing is good (which credit belongs to the translator as well as the writer).

I've read a little (very little) before about the trampling of the fumie and of the struggles the Japanese Church had in coming to grips with the return of those who had apostatized. I think it would be an enlightening study.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, July 12, 2010 at 5:43 am

Endo's "Silence" and "The Golden Country" deal with the latter topics most extensively, as I remember.

Posted by Stephan on Monday, July 12, 2010 at 7:28 am
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Date: April 11, 2012, 9:00 am
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