First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Thirty years lie between the leading contemporary Japanese writer Shusaku Endo’s justly famed Silence and his powerful new novel Deep River, a book which is both a summation and a pinnacle of his work.
So begins one of the moThe river is the Ganges, where a group of Japanese tourists converge: Isobe, grieving the death of the wife he ignored in life; Kiguchi, haunted by wartime memories of the Highway of Death in Burma; Numanda, recovering from a critical illness; Mitsuko, a cynical woman struggling with inner emptiness; and butt of her cruel interest, Otsu, a failed seminarian for whom the figure on the cross is a god of many faces. Bringing these and other characters to vibrant life and evoking a teeming India so vividly that the reader is almost transported there, Endo reaches his ultimate religious vision, one that combines Christian faith with Buddhist acceptance.
Finally, another workweek is in the books! It is now time to dive into the weekend. Cue: Taeyeon’s Weekend. I hope that the week went in favor of everyone. I hope that everyone is ending the week on a high note. Else, I hope that you will spend the weekend recovering or resting. It is so sad to see how our lives our reduced into a cycle. Thankfully, there are breaks from routine. For instance, my company will be having an outing and team building this weekend; I was hoping it won’t overlap with the weekend but it is still a small win I guess. This is my first company outing since the pandemic. The outing is one of the activities company workers are looking forward to every year. Apart from a break from routine, it allows colleagues to build bonds and rapport.
Before I can dress down for the weekend, I will be capping the work week with a fresh First Impression Friday update. At the start of April, I commenced a literary journey across the Land of the Rising Sun; this was aligned with my recent travel to Japan at the start of May. Over the years, Japanese literature has become one of my favorite parts of the world of literature. April was spent exploring the works of Japanese writers whose oeuvre I previously have not explored. It was, to say the least, a very interesting journey and a prolific one as well. By the end of the month, I completed reading thirteen books, the most I read in a month since I started reading. I decided to extend this journey by another month even before April ended. As such, May has been dedicated to works of familiar Japanese writers. I have, so far, ticked off works by Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, Natsume Sōseki, and Yōko Tawada. I am currently reading Shūsaku Endō’s Deep River.
Like Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat, Deep River is my third novel by Shūsaku Endō. This makes him the 81st writer with whom I read at least three books. Endō first captured my interest while I was perusing must-read books. His popular novel, Silence, immediately captured my fancy. I finally got the chance to read the book during the pandemic and, sadly, it did not live up to my expectations. I guess I had lofty expectations of the book. This, however, did not stop me from reading Endō’s other works. I liked The Samurai, a book I read last year. I also have high hopes for Deep River because, like Silence, it is listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Interestingly, I wasn’t really too keen on Deep River when I first encountered it. The first book cover I encountered was familiar. It was an image of men bathing on the Ganges River. This was familiar because I have read of the pilgrimage to the city of Varanasi back when I was still an elementary student. Somehow, it was not something I fancied I guess. I eventually changed my mind – the fact that it was one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die was a factor – and obtained a copy of the book. Besides, I wanted to broaden my reach into Japanese literature. In the ambit of Japanese literature, Endō is not your typical writer as his prose explores a subject rarely explored in this part of the literary world: Christianity. This was palpable in the first two Endō novels I read. My third is no different.
In a way, Deep River is a deviation from the first two Endō novels I read. Both Silence and The Samurai were steeped in history. Meanwhile, Deep River is more contemporary although it did tackle some parts of contemporary Japanese history, such as the battle between Japanese forces and British and Indian forces in the rainforests of Myanmar; came across this as well in other works such as Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, if my memory serves me right. Anyway, the novel revolved around a group of Japanese tourists on a tour to India in 1984. The first chapters of the novel laid out the backstories of these characters. Because of this fragmented structure, I felt like it was a collection of short stories.
The first character to be introduced was Osamu Isobe. At the start of the novel, he dealt with the untimely demise of his wife due to cancer. His wife’s nurse Mitsuko Naruse was the second main character. The pivotal point in her life was when she studied at university where Otsu, a schoolmate, piqued her interest and challenged her values. One can sense that Mitsuko Naruse was unhappy in her life. Meanwhile, Kiguchi was a veteran of the war as I have mentioned above. The horrors of the war haunted him. Numada, the last of these four characters, was a prominent writer of children’s books. Animals such as dogs and cats were integral in his story. There were minor characters who gave the story different textures, such as a newlywed couple on a honeymoon. They were insufferable and kept on complaining about the place.
As has been typical of the works of Shūsaku Endō, religious values were at the core of Deep River which can literally be interpreted as the Ganges River, a river sacred for Hindus. It can also be an allegory for the journey of the main characters as they grapple with the meaning of life and a wide range of moral and spiritual dilemmas. There were also interesting subjects that were introduced in the story such as reincarnation, heretical ideas, and subtle exhibits of racism and discrimination. At first, I thought that the fragmented storylines would converge eventually and provide Osamu Isobe the answers he was seeking. However, as I entered the second half of the book, it doesn’t seem like the case because all characters have their own concerns. I will see how the story pans out.
With nearly halfway through, I am confident of completing the book over the weekend. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy weekend everyone!