Endô Shûsaku’s Ryûgaku (1965) took a long time to reach English (a 1989 translation by Mark Williams as Foreign Studies). Among other things, this confused realization that its second component, “Araki Thomas” preceded Endô’s grisly novel about 17th-century martyrdom of Roman Catholic missionaries and Japanese convers in his 1966 novel Shinmoku (The Silence).
The tale in Foreign Studies focuses on a Japanese man who went to Europe to Rome to study (Catholic) theology and who later returned to Japan, knowing of the Tokugawa persecution of Christians and renounced the faith, urging other converts to save their lives by trampling images of Jesus. To me the case is more one of pragmatism than one of alienation in Europe.
The other two involve Japanese students in France, ca. 1950 and 1965, despairing of ever understanding Europeans (specifically French). “A Summer in Rouen” focuses on Kudo, who is boarded by a French family whose son aspired to become a missionary to Japan. Kudo is dubious about Catholicism spreading in Japan and about taking on the dead son’s missionizing project.
Most of the volume (78 percent) is occupied by the third variation on Japanese in Europe, “An You, Too.” There is no overlap of characters or even sites between the three variations, and I reject Endô’s claim that the book is a novel. I’d accept applying the category to “And You, Too” although it contains long extracts of what the junior faculty member, Tanaka, writes in the way of a thesis on the Marquis de Sade.
Before being stricken by tuberculosis (which also ended Endö’s studies in Lyon), Tanaka visits sites where Sade lived and/or committed crimes, including La Coste in the south of France (the Vaucluse), where he had a chateau that was partly destroyed in 1799. The village is buried under snow on both visits, to the fields of poppies were not in bloom.
(tower of the Chateau Le Coste, my photo)
Tanaka tries to avoid contact with other Japanese in Paris, though he ends up arranging the repatriation of an architecture student living in the same hotel after Sakisaka is diagnosed with tuberculosis. (There is no indication that Tanaka was infected by Sakisaka, though I couldn’t avoid suspecting this). Tanaka is particularly miffed when a junior colleague from the same school, Suganuma, arrives and inflames Tanaka’s concerns about the security of his position back “home,” what appears to be a viper’s nest of academics jockeying for position.
Tanaka is also irritated by what his wife writes him, though feeling sentimental about their son. Tanaka feels that he would never be able to understand/communicate with the French.
In his introduction, Endô stresses that Kudo is not autobiographical, studying in Rouen rather than Lyon as Endô did. Surely the pressures and frustrations of the fictional character were not solely invented. Tanaka resides in the capital a decade and a half later, when there were other Japanese (even if he seeks to avoid associating with them). Endô also says that he had become more optimistic about the possibilities of intercultural communication than he was when he left France. Understanding the life and/or the writings of the Marquis de Sade strikes me as posing difficulties other than being in a foreign language, a very different time for one. What Tanaka writes about the transformation of the libertine into a sort of philosopher of sadomasochism seems plausible, though Tanaka treats Sade more as a saint (conducting pilgrimages to sites where the Marquis suffered and/or made others suffer) than many would (for instance, me).
©2017, Stephen O. Murray