Monday, May 14, 2012

Volcano by Shusaku Endo.

I was lucky enough to be offered a copy of two of Shusaku Endo's novels. After I got the offer, I had to do a little research into who Endo was, since I had never heard of him. What I learned is that Endo is a modern-classic Japanese writer (he passed away in 1996), and he wrote a great deal about the conflicting ideals happening in Japan in the modern era. Many of his novels focus on Japan's role in the modern world after World War II.

The first novel I read was Volcano. The novel was originally published in 1959 in Japanese. From what I read online, it was one of Endo's lesser-known works.

The novel focuses on two characters-Jinpei Suda, a researcher on his city's volcano (he works for the Weather Bureau at the beginning of the novel), and Durand, an ex-French priest. Both men have fallen from their high statuses near the beginning of the novel.

The novel alternates between their two stories until they run into each other on the side of the volcano. It is an interesting structure that I was at first put off by. When I began, I preferred Suda's storyline-finding it far more compelling than that of Durand. But then those roles flipped by the end, so I am sure that was Endo's doing.

What really worked for me in this book was how the two characters were so similar, while being at very opposite sides of a belief system. Both are struggling with illness and their own encroaching deaths, but they tackle it in different ways. Suda seems to be off-put by how those around him really perceive him in his old age, while Durand doesn't care at all. He just does.

The result is an interesting little novel that compares the lives and passions of men to a once "dormant" volcano.

And, to be honest, while the story was compelling and interesting, I didn't really love it. At different points, I really hated the characters. It was hard to sympathize with either of them when I learned more about who they were and what they had done in their lives. But I could still appreciate Endo's ability to craft the story. It is dark, deep, and dormant, just like the volcano. I am curious to see what he does in the other work I was sent (When I Whistle-haven't started it yet) to see if it is more to my liking.

Has anyone else read anything by Endo? Since this is a minor work, I'm curious about his better known titles!

"A volcano resembles human life. In youth it gives rein to the passions, and burns with fire. It spurts out lava. But when it grows old, it assumes the burden of those past evil deeds. It turns deathly quiet as we now behold it. Nevertheless, a human being is not entirely like the volcano. When we grow old, will cast a backward glance upon our lives, becoming fully aware of our mistakes."

*I was sent this title for review*


  1. Silence is one of my favorite books. I was very moved when I first read it several years ago. The only other book I read of his is Deep River which I also quite liked.

  2. I also received a review copy of Volcano. I enjoyed it, but I did find some parts confusing. I was able to pick up on some of the allegory well enough, but I couldn't really get attached to a Volcano being the main character. I also received When I Whistle and I'm glad I read that second, as I really enjoyed it more than Volcano. You can read some additional thoughts I had on Volcano here.

  3. Silence is one my very favorite books. Haven't read anything else yet, but I plan on it!

  4. I just read his Silence - it was stunning and powerful and full of unanswered theological questions. I'd highly recommend it, and if you wanted to learn a little more, I reviewed it here: Your review makes me want to check out Volcano!