cover image The Girl I Left Behind

The Girl I Left Behind

Shusaku Endo. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $25.95 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1303-5

``Some 35 years have passed since I wrote this novel and, on rereading it, I am struck by the immature technique revealed in certain places.'' So writes Endo (Deep River) in a candid afterword. Endo, Japan's foremost Catholic novelist, is a good critic of his own work, for this novel is a sentimental tale filled with coincidence and heavy Christian symbolism. Yoshioka Tsutomu, a typical Japanese salaryman, hears a disembodied voice in his head that says: ``It's not possible for someone to interact with a fellow human being without leaving some traces.'' Specifically, the voice (which belongs to Jesus Christ) refers to a country girl named Morita Mitsu, whom Yoshioka seduced when he was a college student. Their affair was a shabby thing: Yoshioka exploited Mitsu's sympathy for his slight limp, caused by childhood polio, to get her into bed. Mitsu's a true naif, down to the sentimental pop songs she sings and the movie stars she adores. As far as Yoshioka's concerned, it's a one-night stand. But Mitsu keeps popping into his life at the oddest moments: a misshaped crucifix she acquired on their evening together resurfaces in Yoshioka's life; later, he falls in love with a woman who used to work with Mitsu. Inevitably, he meets her again, but under greatly altered circumstances, an encounter that leads Mitsu to a life of Christian charity. Flawed and awkward as it is, this early novel by a writer who has since come to be viewed as a master has moments of sparkling intelligence and clarity. (Nov.)