Shusaku Endo is the most Western in style of the Japanese post Meiji writers I’ve read. As I’ve written before, this can be chalked up to his Catholicism his clear belief in good and evil and the way he must resolve the ethical questions that pop up and not leave them as gray areas. He has none of the sense of doomed pre-destination of other Japanese writers.
While Endo is a talented writer who really knows how to tell a story, this can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because his narratives are much easier to follow than many of his countryman writers, much more solid down to Earth. A curse because he sometimes feels the need to moralize and to bring God into it in a morally absolute way.
THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND shows both parts of the equation. It’s one of the few books I ever read that I wished was longer particularly the first third where we are introduced to the two main characters -the narrator (part of the time) a callow college student named Yoshioka and an overweight simple clingy working girl (at the beginning she’s employed in a factory) named Mitsu. Yoshioka uses pity felt for damage done to his body during a childhood bout with polio to sleep with Mitsu on their second date. It is implied both are virgins but not stated. Then he dogs her not calling her and avoiding her.
A couple of years go by, Mitsu is troubled even before she met Yoshioka by a growth on her wrist which is the deus ex machina here. She has sunk quite low becoming a bar girl and part-time prostitute. It is implied Yoshioka’s dogging her is responsible for this. Yoshioka is now an ambitious executive. How they meet again and Mitsu’s story of finding her calling make up the rest of the book.
Some of the preaching gets a little heavy handed here but I did like how Mitsu with her history of caring too much and being taken advantage of finds her calling taking care of other people. The ending seems a bit rushed and using a letter to explain the final fate of a main character is something a lot of books have done.
However, overall, THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND is solid, compact, a good book but not as hefty in thought or story as the two books I read by him previously. My earlier posts on Shusaku Endo can be found here . I’m also getting ready to read THE SEA AND POISON by him as well.