Wonderful Fool by Shusaku Endo, translated by Peter Owen (Tuttle Publishing, 1974; originally published in 1959)
I am currently on a schedule of reading one Shusaku Endo book per Swiss grandchild born. I'm definitely warming to his writing, so perhaps I should visit Switzerland more often.
This thoughtful exploration of what might happen when innocence and love meet everyday society, though less depressing than most of the stories in Stained Glass Elegies, is hardly the "light, humorous novel" promised in the Introduction. It is, however, uplifting and redemptive. It is also well written, for which credit no doubt goes to both the author and the translator. I especially enjoy the vision of Japan through Japanese eyes, and the small advantage our brief visit to that country has given me. The one part of the translation that strikes me as odd when I read it is the persistent use of the appellation "foreigner" in a way it would not be used in English. Yet when I imagine the speakers saying "gaijin" instead, the language flows and the usage makes sense.
The summary on the back cover is excellent, so rather than reinvent an inferior wheel, here it is:
Wonderful Fool is Shusaku Endo's gentle and humorous narrative of "mudswamp Japan"—his phrase for the Japanese inner world of moral apathy and insensitivity to God and sin. A young Frenchman, Gaston Bonaparte, comes to Japan for the first time, and we see Japan afresh through his eyes. At first he seems to be the utter fool both in his ugly horseface appearance and slow-witted thought, but he gradually charms those around him as he bumbles through Japanese society, making mistake after mistake. In spite of his mistakes, those around him start to see some endearing qualities in his pure love of both people and animals. Gaston's wanderings take him to the seamier places in Japan, as he spends time in Sanya with day laborers, in Shibuya with fortune tellers, in Shinjuku with prostitutes, and eventually hooks up with a professional killer. His two young hosts, Takamori and his sister Tomoe, are drawn into Gaston's world and forced to take a deeper look at their own lives and values. Both a provocative tale of clashing culture and new-found morals, Wonderful Fool also serves as a kind of guidebook to a hidden Tokyo and Japan that few foreigners may have a chance to experience.