Deep River


Shusaku Endo's 1993 novel Deep River (深い河, or Fukai Kawa) follows a group of Japanese tourists on a tour of Buddhist sites in India. Each is searching for some form of spiritual understanding or healing. Isobe lost his wife years before and ruminates on reincarnation. Mitsuko, my favorite character in the novel for her type and how well Endo developed her, is a cynical nurse who believes she's incapable of love, and who mocks the priest Otsu for his devotion to Christianity and its "Onion," the name she feels more comfortable calling its god. Kiguchi seems forever stuck in painful memories of the war and Japanese withdrawal from Burma. While Numada, a writer who seeks salvation from nature, is certain that a myna died in his place so that he could live.


The novel pits a number of themes and philosophies against each other, such as East and West, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, and egotism and compassion. We're also given a wide array of perspectives, carefully laid out to us as the characters recount their pasts and question who they are. The tour takes place during the final days of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and Endo's rich descriptions of the atmosphere during that time, the Ganges, the religious sites, relics, and gods, as well as various strata of Indian society will leave lasting impressions. He's been called by some the Japanese Graham Greene, and I could see why as I read this book; it's more evident in Deep River than in other Endo novels. Overall, it's an exceptionally well-crafted story that'll make you think about humanity, love, death, devotion, and spiritual paths.

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