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Special To The Japan Times

When a respected Catholic novelist by the name of Suguro meets an inebriated woman at a party, he is astounded to hear that she recognizes him from a portrait hanging in a club she claims he patronizes in one of Tokyo’s more sleazy night quarters. Though in fierce denial, curiosity gets the better of him, setting in motion a train of events reminiscent of a police procedural, but closer to a spiritual inquiry.

Scandal, by Shusaku Endo.
PeTER OWEN, Fiction.

The author’s own Catholicism, like that of the novelist Graham Green, with whom he corresponded for many years, was not that of the mute supplicant, but a man bent on putting moral absolutes to the test. Endo accordingly situates his main character, a man of unimpeachable social standing, in a quarter of Shinjuku known for its soapland salons, peep shows and porn shops, and then observes the inevitable erosions and loss of composure. As a tabloid reporter catches the scent of a potentially lucrative story, Endo utilizes the moment to accelerate the narrative. His analysis of what happens when the mooring blocks are kicked from underneath his main character, leads to a number of convoluted plot twists as, troubled by premonitions, he stumbles into the twilight zone of truth and concealment.

The gradual disassembling of a carefully constructed reputation assigns Suguro to a purgatorial state driven more by common fate than orthodox religion, as the city becomes a metaphor, a pilgrims’ route to truth and atonement.

Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.