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Sachiko, Shusaku Endo’s World-Historical Novel

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(pcess609/Getty Images) In his depiction of Japan and Europe during the Second World War, he treats the kinds of human love, including the romantic and the self-sacrificial.

Sachiko, by Shusaku Endo, translated by Van C. Gessel (Columbia University Press, 408 pages, $28)

If you read only one new novel this year, let it be the great Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s Sachiko. Actually, it is not a new novel, as it was published first in 1982 but is only now getting an English translation in the Weatherhead Books on Asia series, in which Van C. Gessel has also translated Endo’s Kiku’s Prayer: A Novel (2013), a predecessor of the current historical novel. (In 2020, Gessel received the Myoshi Translation Award for his lifetime service in translating modern Japanese literature.)

Shusaku Endo, born in 1923, died 25 years ago this month and is one of the great novelists of post–World War II Japan, having attracted by his earlier works the highest praise from fellow novelists, including Graham Greene and John Updike. His best-known work in English is the historical novel Silence (1966; English, 2009), which has been made into a full-length feature film three times by different directors — in Japanese (1971), Portuguese (1996), and English (by Martin Scorsese, 2016). My own preference is for The Samurai (1980, translated by Gessel), also historically accurate and set in Japan, Mexico, Spain, and Italy in the late 16th century.

Endo treats historical themes about the encounter of Japan and Japanese with the West since the earliest Christian presence in Japan in the 16th century, and Sachiko treats the period 1930–45 in Japan but also with an important intersecting secondary plot involving Europe under the Nazi regime. It takes some actual historical personages, places, and events and weaves them into a brilliant tapestry with fictional figures and events. In Sachiko most of the action takes place in Nagasaki, involving individuals in the Japanese Catholic community there that made it the center of Japanese Christianity.

Nagasaki was also the site of terrible persecutions and massacres of Catholics, thousands of whom were exterminated

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