There's loads of literature that illuminates the foreigner's struggle in Japan. But these tales about "strangers in a strange land" are mostly written from the stranger's point of view. It's more unusual to read the Japanese perspective, which is one reason why Shusaku Endo's "Wonderful Fool" — first serialized in the Asahi Shimbun in 1959 — is notable.

Wonderful Fool, by Shusaku Endo, Translated by Francis Mathy.
200 pages
Peter Owen Publishers, Fiction.

In the novel, a young Frenchman named Gaston Bonaparte visits Tokyo to meet his former pen-pal, Takamori. Much to the disappointment of Takamori and his sister, Gaston is not at all the glamorous foreigner they expected. This wry, touching tale of humanity explores the themes of the self and "the other;" haves and have-nots; revenge and mercy. Endo playfully uses his own name in the novel when Gaston is kidnapped by a gangster out for revenge who is also named Endo.

Christian themes underpin the plot — which is to be expected from Endo, whose Roman Catholic leanings shine through in other works such as "Silence" and "Deep River" — but they are never obtrusive.

Endo's message in "Wonderful Fool" seems deceptively simple: With "everyone out to get the other fellow," being "a saint or a man of too good a nature" is foolish. But Endo makes things more complex by adding a satirical commentary on the materialism and spiritual emptiness of 1950s Japan, which is so incisive that it still resonates today.

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