“Deep River” by Shusaku Endo
The “Deep River” was written by a famous and highly praised Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo in the early 1990th, and published in 1993. English translation was published in 1995 by New Directions and has 224 pages.
The narrative of the novel follows the tourist group from Japan while they are traveling across India in search of the answers to their personal questions, as well as introducing their past and the intimate moments of their lives to the reader. The main notion of the novel seems to be the idea of finding souls’ true aspirations throughout characters’ symbolic journey to the banks of Ganges River. Moreover, there is a clear attempt to critically evaluate the fusion between Western and Japanese societies that created modern Japanese understanding of Christianity itself.
There are several main characters in the novel:
Isobe, an ordinary working man who had lost his wife due to cancer;
Mitsuko, volunteer in the hospital, who is unable to feel love and compassion for anybody;
Otsu, whose story is presented mainly through Mitsuko’s perspective, Christian priest, who struggles with his understanding of Christianity;
Numada – the children’s book writer with gentle heart and affection towards animals;
Kiguchi – World War II veteran, who had survived all of the war’s atrocities and later returned home.
It is clear that the characters’ motivations differ from each other significantly. But their main goal is the same – they all want to achieve some kind of peace with themselves. As they progress throughout their journey they try to find something that bears significance to them. For Mitsuko, it is her affiliation with Hindu Goddess and her deep emotional understanding of the whole symbolism of the Ganges River. She is a chaotic woman, as admits herself (p) and that’s why she had grown attached to India. Numada returned his debt to the myna bird which had saved him – he let another myna bird out into the sanctuary. Isobe had finally said goodbye to his wife. Kiguchi finally relieved himself from carrying all of his friend’s secrets on his own.
Interestingly enough, the only one without a definite closure is Otsu. He was outcasted by the society in general. In Mitsuko’s words – Otsu was too strange (p). But he followed his heart and his absolute belief in Love and was left on the ghat steps beaten by those whom he helped daily.
The “Deep River” provides the reader with the idea of some “strange” Christianism. Endo was known for his harsh criticism towards European stiffness regarding the idea of God being addressed in one and only true way which is prescribed in Catholicism. As Otsu says in the book, his mentality affects his perception of the European Christianity. “In the final analysis, the faith of the Europeans is conscious and rational, and these people reject anything they cannot slice into categories with their rationality and their conscious minds” (p. 117, Deep River). From Otsu’s point of view, every world religion has true God in itself, but …