In this book, Gaston Bonaparte, ironically a descendant of Napoleon, arrives in Tokyo as the guest of a typically middle-class, materialistic Japanese family. Gas, however, is irresistibly drawn to victims, to the downtrodden in Japanese society and he nourishes them with compassion.
This was a great story by one of Japan's finest writers1999/10/28
Being a large fan of Shusaku Endo, when I saw this book with an interesting title, I decided to read it. I was very happily surprised. Not only is this excellently written story a very moving tale, but it is often very funny. Endo has used his talent to tell the story of an often foolish man named Gaston Bonaparte, a man with a passion for Japan. He travels to Japan and stays with a small Japanese family. While his old pen pal, the only son of the family, is very supportive of him, the only daughter does not like him at all. Things get even worse when he is abducted by an angry gangster, and eventually forced to make the greatest sacrifice of all. If you like dramatic, moving, and funny stories, make sure you read this one.
Only a real fool would pass this one up2005/3/28
Endo's novel is a marvelously winning and affecting story about the wanderings of a saintly Frenchman (and descendant of Napoleon) through the mean streets of post-war Tokyo.
You have maybe met someone like Gaston Bonaparte? The sort of man who apologizes when you step on his foot; who'd rather be cheated than think someone dishonest. Who is, naturally, held in a sort of weary pity by his family and in complete scorn by almost anyone else.
Endo addresses in this novel what it is that world values and what it does to a man who who is apart from those values. While the rest of the world cannily pursues it's own ends (survival, or better, and reproduction) Gaston is --quite unintentionally--pursuing that proffession which is revered in name but entirely held in contempt in actual practice. Gaston is maybe not a man who is good for much, certainly not in the world's eyes -but sainthood has ever been the most egalitarian of vocations.
There is a powerful case made for man's free will implicitly in this, but also in the novel's character, Endo, who is the opposite and the reflection of Gaston. He too though, is pursuing his end regardless of even himself -to the extent of refusing to take antibiotics for a tuberculosis infected lung.
Perhaps the novel's most poignant theme is it's message that even at our most debased and broken, God has not forgotten or given up on us. Endo's illustration of this is original and startling; Gaston chooses to follow after Endo at a cost and in a way that could only be called insane by anyone the world would call sane.
Endo's writing is simple and elegant and executed in an exciting, almost cinematic manner. It keeps the reader turning the pages through the book's all too short duration. If I had to say something critical about this book, I might mention that the writing is not as smooth as some of Endo's later works -it lacks subtlety at moments and there are plot possibilites which are raised and not pursued. That is just nothing though, to the whole of how wonderful this book really is.
David J. Alexander
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."
I first read Wonderful Fool in a high school English class, it was out of print so my teacher photocopied 60 copies of the entire book, and it was wel worth it. I loved both the story and the way it was told, with vivid colors and moods. Highly recommended
A Parable From Shusako Endo2012/12/27
R. J. Marsella
Wonderful Fool is a remarkable parable of a simple man who suddenly appears in the lives of a brother and sister who are residents of Tokyo . Gaston Bonaparte , a physically large simplistic and seemingly naive visitor , wanders the city befriending prostitutes, a stray dog, a fortune teller and ultimately a dangerous gangster. Regardless of how he gets treated he responds with an almost inhuman level of kindness and concern for all. Endo has written a parable of an almost Christlike figure who stands out not only for his physical difference but for his capacity to absorb mistreatment and pain without harboring resentment. This is a beautiful short novel that has many elements to recommend it not the least of which is the cross section of Tokyo society that is encountered as the story unfolds.