Book: Deep River (1993; English translation by Van C. Gessel, 1994)
Author: Shusaku Endo (1923-1996)
Connection with ABC-TV’s LOST: There is some controversy about whether this book is actually seen in the show. The title is reportedly mentioned in the script for episode 6 of the final season, but the cover is never seen clearly enough to demonstrate what Dogen is actually reading. The book’s similarity to the show is, however, quite apparent. It uses flashbacks regarding the individual characters much the same way as LOST does.
The book also centers on the River Ganges, which is in some ways reminiscent of the murky temple pool in which Sayid was placed in the season 6 premiere. The River is a place of life and death. Sayid dies after being placed in the pool, but comes back to life. Dogen is killed by Sayid and ends up in the pool.
- Deep River by Shusaku Endo (Book Drunk Blog)
- Japan’s Faithful Judas: Husaku Endo’s struggle to give his faith a Japanese soul
Christian writers struggle with how to share their faith in a way that reverberates with the culture around them. In Deep River, Shusaku Endo finds a way to share his unique vision of Christianity by developing characters that his culture can relate to. He also captures the universal human condition – people of any culture can empathize with what they are going through.
The book follows four Japanese tourists who have, for various personal reasons, decided to spend their vacations in India.
Isobe has lost his wife to cancer. On her deathbed, she revealed to Isobe her belief in reincarnation, saying that she knows she will be reborn, and that he should look for her after she dies. Isobe is unable to shake himself free of his wife’s dying words, and after a few years learns of a scientific study researching reincarnation. He is told of a young Indian girl who claims to remember details of a past life in Japan. Isobe, despite deep reservations, makes the trip to try to find her.
Numada writes stories about animals which can speak to people. He is hospitalized with a life-threatening disease, but recovers the same day that his pet myna bird dies. Believing his pet has somehow died in his place, Numada travels to India to experience first-hand the wildlife there.
Kiguchi is a veteran of World War Two who was one of the Japanese troupes on the Burmese “Highway of Death.” His comrade stayed behind with him when he fell ill, and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Haunted by this act, Kiguchi’s friend constantly drinks, and dies of complications of alcoholism. Kiguchi is going to India in hope of performing a Buddhist ritual in honor of his comrade and others who died in the war.
Mitsuko was a volunteer at the hospital where Isobe’s wife died. She is desperately searching for meaning in life, convinced she is incapable of loving anyone. She has divorced an “ideal” Japanese husband, and is still haunted by Otsu, a classmate from college. On a dare, Mitsuko had seduced the awkward Christian, telling him that he could be one of her boyfriends if he forsook his God.
Mitsuko abruptly dumps Otsu, who is convinced by the whole experience that God still has a hold of him. He decides to study for the priesthood. Mitsuko meets Otsu at various stages of his life, and is perplexed by his faith.
The trip to India is prompted when she hears Otsu is studying there. While she is there, she is struck by the strangeness of the religion around her, especially Hinduism.
There’s still the river. It’s a deep river, so deep I feel as though it’s not just for the Hindus but for everyone. (p. 195)
These are the words of Mitsuko near the end of the book, from which the title is taken. She is speaking to Kiguchi, who has discovered that the land of Buddha is now mostly Hindu. The words reflect the beliefs of the Japanese author, who was a Catholic, but also deeply saw life from an oriental viewpoint. Earlier in the book, Otsu expressed similar thoughts.
…[God] doesn’t live only within European Christianity. He can be found in Hinduism and in Buddhism as well. This is no longer just an idea in my head, it’s a way of life I’ve chosen for myself. (p. 184)
This choice has caused his fellow priests to despise him, much as Jesus himself was despised by the religious leaders of his day. In fact, Otsu’s life has been associated throughout the book with scriptures about Christ.
…he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him….
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day, taught from childhood to worship the One God (Deuteronomy 6:4), where not interested in having their world shaken up. They despised Jesus. Like many western Christians today, they had a pat answer for every question, even if some of the answers, as Jesus told them, directly contradicted what God had said (Mark 7:13).
The problem comes when we stop seeking truth. Deep River does not end with everyone finding all the answers they are looking for. The western mind, which likes everything wrapped in nice, neat packages, is not comfortable when things are not resolved – when there are unanswered questions.
But life is not about finding out all the answers. It is more about admitting that we don’t have the answers.
Even the Apostle Paul – the one who believed in the Jesus Christ who called himself “the way, the truth. and the life” (John 14:6) – the one who learned the Gospel from Jesus himself (Galatians 1:12) – said that even he had not arrived (Philippians 3: 12-13).
At one point in the book, Endo quotes Mahatma Gandhi:
As a Hindu, I believe instinctively that there are varying degrees of truth in all religions. All religions spring forth from the same God. But every religion is imperfect. That is because they have all been transmitted to us by imperfect human beings.
As a Christian, I echo these words. I am sure that there are many things which I have learned to call “Christian” that have been made imperfect by those who have taught me, and by my own thoughts. It is not that God is imperfect, but how we interpret what he has said is affected by our imperfections.
This is not to say that we can’t know anything for sure. God wants us to know the truth. If we are honestly seeking truth, God will show it to us. Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7: 16-17 NIV)
James put it this way: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)