I just finished Wonderful Fool by Shusaku Endo, the fifth novel I have read by him. Like the others, this one was outstanding. He wrote very skillfully and deeply perceptively about human nature. Endo always chooses topics, it seems, which are uncomfortable, which draw up against the reader's "flesh" or that part of them that is worldly and selfish at the expense of others' wellbeing. (As a Japanese too he chooses topics which are particularly unflattering for the Japanese people like the crucifixtions of Portugese missionaries in Silence, the experimentation on POWs in The Sea and Poison, and the pornography industry and sex trade in Scandal. In Wonderful Fool his readers see some of the gangs, spend time with the prostitutes, and go around the slums of Tokyo with a hitman, but all as seen from a holy heart of love, it seems clear to me. Endo is not content to remain on the surface of things- his art is nobler than that and his love more burning than that. He brings his reader with him to touch the nerves that run so deep they cross beyond his cultural moment to the universal heart of mankind.
His characters always act from weakness and sorrow and struggle and failure. Gaston, the socially inept, the ugly, the slow-minded, reaching out to Japan with the most powerful thing in the world, love, but covered in a ball of rags.
Like Scandal this novel contained characters deeply effected by warcrimes that those close to them had participated in. The hitman Endo (Endo likes to make the criminal characters reflect identity with him in some way in some of his novels, naming the hitman Endo or making the main character of Scandal a Christian writer, like Endo, of a Life of Christ.) turns to a life of hatred and coldblooded murder when faced with his brother's having carried out orders to burn the occupants of a village and the brother's subsequent framing by his commanding officers. Gaston persistantly, doggedly, beyond all civil tepid-ity, urges Endo from a position of weakness not to go through with his plot of revenge on the officers. Gaston, despite his outer weakness and failure, is a real man, as the character Takamori discerns, because he takes a stand for the right thing despite his weaknesses that he could have so easily taken as excuses not to do what he should. It is integrity to the gospel that Endo has witnessed, bears witness to, keeps within himself. The "fool" is wonderful for this integrity, this sacred obedience, this longsuffering love, which endures blows and persecutions by the ones he is trieing to help, and which has takes the courage to recognize that he can and must help, that he must, despite all his weakness and absurdity in the eyes of the world, come to Japan for love. Hallelujah!
Endo ends by tieing Gaston's mysterious end into the early Japanese story, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."