Review Of Five By Endo, by Shusaku Endo and Van C. Gessel
Copyright © by Jessica Schneider, 3/21/10


  I always love the little gems I am able to find in a Half Price Books. Even more so, are those books that I can’t believe anyone would wish to sell back, and so how lucky I was to stumble upon this little find: Five by Endo by Shusaku Endo. This slim collection of tales offers a taste of Endo’s writing, and Endo is a writer definitely worth dipping into.

  The first tale, “Unzen,” deals with similar subject matter as that of Silence, one of his most famous novels. The tale involves the torturing of Christians during Seventeenth Century Japan, and unlike Silence (which I found to be a huge disappointment, largely due to the bad translation) Van C. Gessel’s translation of this story, as well as all the stories in this collection—is excellent.

  The second tale, titled “A Fifty Year Old Man,” is one of the best tales about death and dying I’ve ever read, and could possibly be the best, at least of published stories that is. The story involves a man who is dealing with both the dying of his brother as well as his dog, and there are moments in it that are as poignant as the poem “The House Dog's Grave” by Robinson Jeffers. In the tale, Endo crafts an emotional and insightful portrait of a man who is faced with loss. In one moment, the narrator notes, while he is kneeling beside his dying dog:

  “As he gazed at the cosmos flowers, Chiba thought of how many people, how many living things he had encountered in his day. But the people with whom he had truly had some connection, and the living things with which he had had a true bond, were few indeed.”

  The tale is powerful in its pathos, and one that will truly resonate upon reflection. The next tale, “Japanese in Warsaw,” is an odd tale, one with a classic “twist” to it. The story involves a group of tourists visiting Warsaw, but who are only out to fulfill their own hedonistic pleasures. A priest who was killed in Auschwitz is brought up among the locals, and later the priest is seen again in a photo.

  “The Box” is a first person narration that allows us to learn a woman’s story during WW II and her involvement with the secret police. The tale matter of factly relays the bombing of Tokyo, the shortage of food, and ends on a poetic, unpredictable note.

  The final tale is “The Case of Isobe” and this is actually the first chapter of Endo’s excellent novel, Deep River. Despite being a fragment from a larger work, the story does work as an entity unto itself, and is one of the most powerful stories within Deep River. “The Case of Isobe” involves a man learning that his wife is dying of cancer, and how their relationship has not been a passionate one, though while she is dying, she manages to leave functionary notes for him regarding mundane tasks. Much like “A Fifty Year Old Man,” “The Case of Isobe” deals with death in a very realistic, and yet emotionally powerful way, observing the tiny things within the sum of a life and marriage that are often overlooked.


Five by Endo is a great collection of tales—not only is it a strong sampling, but it is a strong work in its own right. Not bad for only $2.98!


[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website.]


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