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Deep River
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1001 book reviews > Deep River by Shūsaku Endō

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Diane | 1997 comments Read: January 2018
Rating: 4 Stars

This is the story of 5 Japanese people who go on a spiritual pilgrimage to India to view Buddhist religious landmarks and holy sites. Each person is searching for an answer to something that troubles them in their life. A critical part of the book takes place in Varanasi, along the river Ganges.

Overall, a beautifully told story and my favorite by this author, so far.


message 2: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
4 stars
I really enjoyed this book. Sparse writing but as Diane mentioned above a really beautifully told story. The book centers on a group of Japanese tourists who are traveling to India to visit the Ganges. Each of the individuals has their own spiritual motivations for traveling to Varanasi. The book describes a variety of spiritual and religious viewpoints including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Some characters are believers and others are skeptics but each one is motivated by their need to explore or reconnect with others.


message 3: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Dix | 61 comments This book tells the stories and backstories of a group of Japanese tourists in India and centers around the river Ganges and the varying views of religion by the tourists and the peoples of India. It is an intriguing and enfolding novel with vivid depictions of disease, war, poverty, and the ways in which the characters are affected by what they see and experience.


message 4: by Dree (last edited Jan 20, 2018 09:18PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dree | 243 comments (Rated 3 stars)

In this novel Endo looks at the motives for several Japanese tourists to visit India. Their tour guide, a Japanese man who moved to India permanently after studying there, feels most come to visit Buddhists sites, though Buddhism is no longer big in India. Others come to stare.

This group, though, has a variety: Kiguchi, a veteran who survived the march through Burma, thanks to a friend; Isobe, whose wife recently died and asked him to find her reincarnated self; Mitsuko, divorced middle-aged woman, volunteer at the hospital Isobe's wife died in; Numada, a children's author who has recovered from a bad illness; Otsu is a college acquaintance of Mitsuko, now lives in India though he is technically a Catholic priest, but his philosophy matches Hinduism much better. Sanjo and his wife, newlyweds, play the part of the more typical tourists (complaining about the smell, the heat, the dirt, while trying to take pictures).

Interesting, and thankfully short, but the characters who travel all learn something about themselves, even if it is not what they were hoping to find.


message 5: by Chinook (last edited Jan 23, 2018 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chinook | 282 comments 4 stars


Chinook's review Jan 23, 2018 · edit
really liked it
bookshelves: 1001, asia, europe

For a short book, Deep River covers a lot. It’s interesting to be gazing through a window at the lives of these Japanese men and women as they themselves gaze through a window at Europeans (mostly French) and Indians. The main themes of the book are religion and grief - characters contemplate rebirth, Japanese Buddhism, the differences between Japanese Christianity and European Christianity, Hinduism and a few personal constructions, like the man who thinks of God as being in communion with nature and a woman who eventually decides that humanity is all connected in their river of sorrows.

But the book also touches on the horrors of war, on marriage, of generational gaps in Japan, on sex and love, on work and its discontents, on travel and being respectful of new cultures. It is heavily influenced by two books, Moira and Thérèse Desqueyroux, which influence and mirror one woman’s choices.

Japanese novels tend, for me, to be somewhat hard to understand at a fundamental level - there always seems to be something presented as a universal feeling or action that baffles me. In this novel it’s the bullying of Otsu, which seems to the students to be inevitable and amusing. The tour guide later takes a similar attitude towards the tourists, one of wanting to have revenge against them for no reason that makes sense to me. It’s also sometimes hard to wrap my mind around the male-female relationships presented in Japanese novels.


message 6: by Melissa (last edited Feb 17, 2018 06:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Melissa A very interesting study in faith as seen through the eyes of a group of Japanese tourists to India as they recall pivotal moments of their lives, experiences, and their personal struggles as they try to reconnect with past acquaintances, past loves, and reconcile past traumas through the lens of different faiths and depths of faith as they visit the intersection of Asian faith, with Buddhism, Catholicism, and Hinduism.

4/5 stars


Kristel (kristelh) | 3895 comments Mod
This is the second book that I have read by Roman Catholic, Japanese Author Shūsaku Endō. His books, Silence and Deep River are both included on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. Endō explores religion, especially Catholicism and the Japanese culture in his writings. In this book, set during the time period when Indira Ghandi, prime minister of India, was assassinated examines the lives of 4 Japanese who are on a tour to India to visit Buddhist sites.
1. Osamu Isobe, a man looking for his reincarnated wife.
2. Mitsuko Naruse, a former housewife who takes a trip both as a pilgrimage and to see her ex-boyfriend Otsu as atonement for mistreating him
3. Numada, a bird watcher who wants to set a bird in his possession free.
4. Kiguchi, a former WWII Imperial Japanese Army soldier.
These characters are on a journey, a pilgrimage and it is the story of their individual pilgrimage. The deep river is the Ganges where all peoples are taken in and flow together.
This was an interesting book and look at both Japanese and Indian culture. One point the author makes; I think, is that all Gods are the same God and that in seeking God, no matter which God, that Jesus is born again in that person. Another point in the book is that peoples, cultures, and religions are at odds with each other and in the best circumstances, conflict remains. I personally did not enjoy the descriptions of the river but also believe that the author did an excellent job of painting the picture of the river bank and of India (without using the camera). This book did not inspire me to want to visit India.


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