Shiroi hito, 1954
Kiiroi hito, 1955
Umi to dokuyaku, 1957 (The Sea and the Poison, 1972)
Kazan, 1959 (Volcano, 1978)
Obakasan, 1959 (Wonderful Fool, 1974)
Watashi ga suteta onna, 1963 (The Girl I Left Behind, 1994)
Ryugaku, 1965 (Foreign Studies, 1989)
Chimmoku, 1966 (Silence, 1969)
Taihen da, 1969
Kuchibue o fuku toki, 1974 (When I Whistle, 1979)
Samurai, 1980 (The Samurai, 1982)
Sukyandaru, 1986 (Scandal, 1988)
Hangyaku, 1989 (2 volumes)
Kessen no tiki, 1991
Otoko no issho, 1991
Yojo no gotoku, 1991 (mystery novel)
Aio chiisana budo, 1993
Dipu riba, 1993 (Deep River, 1994)
Aden made, 1954
Endō Shūsaku shū, 1960
Endō Shūsaku yūmoa shōsetsu shū, 1969-1973 (2 volumes)
Gekkō no domina, 1972
Endō Shūsaku misuteri Shōsetu shū, 1975
Juichi no irogarasu, 1979 (Stained-Glass Elegies, 1984)
The Final Martyrs, 1993
Five by Endo: Stories, 2000
Ogon no kuni, pr. 1966 (The Golden Country, 1970)
Furansu no Daigakusei, 1953
Gūtara seikatsu nyūmon, 1967
Iseu no shōgai, 1973 (A Life of Jesus, 1973)
Seisho no naka no joseitachi, 1975
Tetsu no kubikase, 1976
Watakushi no lesu, 1976
Kirisuto no tanjō, 1977
Ningan no naka no X, 1978
Jū to jūjika, 1979
Haru wa basha ni notte, 1989 (essays)
Honto no watakushi o motomete, 1990
Iesu ni atta onnatachi, 1990
Ihojin no tachiba kara, 1990 (essays)
Kirishitan jidai: junkyo to kikyo, 1992
Kokoro no sunadokei, 1992 (essays)
To Friends from Other Lands: A Shūsaku Endō Miscellany, 1992
Shūsaku Endō (ehn-doh) was born in Tokyo, Japan, but spent his early years in Dalian, Manchuria. After Endō’s parents were divorced, his mother returned with her two sons to Tokyo and together with her sister and her sons converted to Catholicism. This religious conversion was perhaps the single most important event in Endō’s life. He became one of Japan’s most admired and widely read novelists, as well as an important writer for the Christian Western world, where he has been hailed as a significant religious novelist by John Updike and Irving Howe, among others. That he has achieved recognition as a devout Christian in a non-Christian culture generally resistant to Western religious philosophy is all the more remarkable.
After World War II, in which he did not serve because of health problems, Endō attended Keio University and completed a B.A. in French literature in 1949. A critical period in Endō’s development as a writer was his postgraduate study in France, from 1950 to 1953, where he came under the influence of such illustrious French writers as Jacques Maritain, François Mauriac, and Georges Bernanos. Endō’s submersion in European culture intensified his appreciation for Christianity’s moral impact on the West and caused him to conclude that there was a spiritual vacuum in Japan. Chronic heart and lung problems ended his stay in France, and he returned to Japan in 1953 to begin an ambitious writing career.
Between 1953 and 1959 Endō wrote fiction that chronicled the religious indifference of the East and articulated the widening disaffection between Eastern and Western cultures. Each work in this period, from Shiroi hito (white men), for which he received the Akutagawa Prize, to The Sea and the Poison, dramatizes what Endō referred to as the Japanese numbness to sin and guilt. Set six months before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Sea and the Poison stands out as particularly stirring and harrowing thematically for its exploration of the inhumane operations performed on captured American pilots during World War II and their impact on two young interns.
Directly after this Endō in 1959 published what may be his most characteristic and perpetually popular novel for Western readers, Wonderful Fool, a comic novel that represents a transitional phase in Endō’s career, moving him beyond the heavy sentimentality and thin characterization of his earlier work and demonstrating increased versatility as a novelist. Its memorable protagonist, Gaston Bonaparte, a failed seminary student who comes self-appointed as a Christian missionary to Japan, exemplifies the trusting, childlike faith in a transcendent deity that Endō found absent in his native land.
Because relatively few of Endō’s lighter, more comic novels and of the many historical and theological essays have been translated, it is possible for some to view him as a rather somber, overly moralistic writer. Certainly, if one only knew Endō’s interpretive biography of Christ, A Life of Jesus, and the historical novels Silence and The Samurai, one would gain a distorted picture of both his range of concerns and his innovativeness as an author. The publication of collected short fiction by Endō, Stained-Glass Elegies and Five by Endō, certainly contributes to a more balanced critical perspective. Nevertheless, Silence and The Samurai are rightly regarded as two of Endō’s major works: Silence won the Tanizaki Prize, and The Samurai the Noma Prize. Both set in the seventeenth century, these dark, carefully plotted novels focus on Japan’s previously often ferocious rejection of and continuing ambivalence toward Christianity. Both these works seem destined to be overshadowed, however, by Endō’s later novel, Scandal, a work in which the author is fully in control of theme, plot, and character.
Scandal is a tautly written thriller with elements of the supernatural; it recalls the classic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Alexander Pushkin, while at the same time representing a tantalizingly autobiographical fiction with a markedly confessional tone. This novel constitutes Endō’s clearest and most powerful statement of the dilemma of the Christian writer in Japan. Each of Endō’s serious historical novels implictly treats the theme of Christianity’s failure to take root in the East. In Scandal, however, he confronts directly his longtime novelistic challenge within the setting of the triumphant, industrialized Japan of the 1980’s. In Suguro, the protagonist of Scandal, Endō created an alter ego who answers directly this momentous question: In a land in which less than 1 percent of the populace profess belief in Christianity, how can the Christian writer make sensible to his readers the concepts of sin, redemption, resurrection, and eternal life?
Appearing at the end of his life, Endō’s novel Deep River, the story of a group of Japanese tourists visiting India, represents a spiritual as well as artistic culmination of the writer’s work. Each protagonist is facing a personal or spiritual crisis: Isobe, a widower, having failed to express his love to his wife during her lifetime, believes he might be able to reconnect with her reincarnated soul. Kiguchi, a soldier during World War II, relives his experiences in Burma. The cynical Mitsuko, who once mocked the failed priest Otsu, now seeks him here, where he in turn seeks a “god of many faces” at the spiritual crossroads of Christianity and Buddhism. Finally, Numada, a writer and the author’s persona, is recovering from a serious illness. All meet at the deep and murky Ganges River, where the living and dead converge.
Endō died in 1996 after a long bout with hepatitis. He once said that when he reflected upon his nation through the eyes of a believing Christian he saw a “mudswamp” that “sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process.” The task he set for himself as a novelist sharply distinguished him from most of his colleagues. Not content with mirroring the moral confusion of contemporary Japan, he sought to foster in his fiction the basic doctrines of Christianity–particularly its transcendent, trinitarian God–in ways that subvert the tendency to transmogrify it into something more theologically palatable and therefore impotent. As a result, Endō’s narrative style is sometimes compared with that of fellow Catholic writer Graham Greene; Endō’s fallen creatures stumbling their way toward heaven captivate readers in the same way that Greene’s faltering saints do. Endō’s career, however, raises a more pertinent comparison, with the French Catholic novelist Mauriac. In works such as Wonderful Fool, When I Whistle, Scandal, and Deep River, Endō created worthy Japanese counterparts to Mauriac’s tortured saints. Haunted by their knowledge of good and evil, the characters must find a way to deal with their sense of sin and guilt. Within their choices, Endō effectively dramatizes the Japanese reluctance to acknowledge sin as the dehumanizing and debilitating hardness that allows a man or a woman to use others for selfish pleasure or gain.
In his work Endō thus chose to take his readers directly into the consciousness of the artist who is charged, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, with drawing large and startling figures for the near-blind, lest they miss the obvious truth of their sinful condition before a holy God. From Endō’s view, the Christian artist in an alien culture must move beyond the voyeurism of secular fiction and self-consciously create contexts in which human sin can be named as such and forgiveness tendered. In many literary circles Endō was regarded as the most important Christian novelist writing in any language in the late twentieth century.