cover image The Final Martyrs

The Final Martyrs

Shusaku Endo. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $21.95 (199pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1272-4

In a calm, delicate, unobtrusive manner, several of these 11 deceptively simple stories by Japanese novelist Endo (The Golden Country) show people wrestling with spiritual crises, extreme situations or life's central issues. In ``The Last Supper,'' an alcoholic corporate executive confesses to a psychiatrist the source of his torment: as a starving soldier in WWII, he ate a dead comrade's flesh. In ``Heading Home,'' a man exhumes his mother's body, buried 30 years earlier, in order to cremate her remains and place them with the ashes of his recently deceased brother. In the title story, set in the 1860s, when the Meiji government outlawed Christianity, a village coward recants his Christian faith to avoid the torture meted out to his fellow converts, but he ultimately redeems himself through an act of quiet courage. This deftly translated collection, comprised of stories written as early as 1959 and as late as 1985, also includes semi-autobiographical tales in which Endo deals with the traumatic impact that his parent's divorce had on his boyhood. He also writes with grace, compassion and gentle humor about old age, love betrayed, Japanese tourists and the marks we leave on the lives of others. (Sept.)