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Literature: Deep River
What I can believe in now is the sight of all these people, each carrying his or her individual burdens, praying at this deep river.

A novel by Japanese Christian Shūsaku Endo, concerning faith, xenophobia, love, kindness, sacrifice, forgiveness, greed, and a host of other topics, presented by a handful of Japanese people visiting India (each for their own very different reasons). The book is an in-depth examination of what it means to be Japanese, what it means to be Christian, and how these apparently contradictory concepts can be reconciled. A film adaptation was made in 1995.

It's not well-known in the West, probably because it deals so heavily with the need for Japanese culture, specifically, to open up, but it's sometimes considered Endo's greatest masterpiece. It's also apparently one of two books he asked to be buried with.

Deep River contains the following tropes:

  • Anachronic Order: The first few chapters serve to explain why each of our protagonists wants to go to India, going back and forth between multiple viewpoints of the past and present.
  • Arc Words: Surely he hath borne our griefs.
  • As the Good Book Says: Justified, given the subject matter. Early on Mitsuko is leafing through a Bible, and encounters the passage "surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows". She spends much of the book ruminating on what this means, and the chapter containing the book's climax is named after the verse.
  • Author Appeal: In a non-sexual sense- Endo majored in French Literature at university, and it shows.
  • Author Avatar: It's not that hard to read Nuwada as one. Both he and Endo are writers, grew up in Manchuria, love animals, and suffered life-threatening illnesses at some point.
  • Bittersweet Ending: No one's trip played out quite as they expected, but they still manage to find meaning in life and grow as people. Oh, and Ōtsu is almost certainly dead.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Ōtsu.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Most conversations between Mitsuko and Ōtsu end up this way.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A good rule of thumb for Endo's work is that everything probably represents Jesus:
    • Nuwada's myna bird "dies in his place" after he has confessed to it all his secrets and guilt.
    • On the human end, Ōtsu has a strangely powerful faith and an unusual conception of God that goes against the church authorities, rejects traditional priesthood in favour of getting out there and actually helping people, and, ultimately, sacrifices his life for an ungrateful idiot who clearly didn't deserve it.
    • The Japanese characters are horrified by the burial services in the River Ganges that seem to go against Japanese culture (much like their attitude towards European Christianity), but some of them eventually come to see it as a symbol of love that transcends all Earthly barriers, with a parallel drawn between Mitsuko's internal narration about the river and the Book of Isaiah.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Tsukada is so wracked with guilt after the war that he resorts to this, and ends up fatally damaging his liver.
  • Eagleland: An incredibly boisterous American tourist pops up near the end of the novel. Oddly enough, Isobe briefly visits relatives in America earlier in the book, and there's no indicator that it's really all that different from Japan.
  • Expy: Gaston, the Christian hospital attendant, is basically a carbon copy of the protagonist from Endo's novel Wonderful Fool, right down to his name. Nuwada's personality and backstory are suspiciously reminiscent of those from several of the author's short stories. (Endo himself was quite sickly.)
  • Friend to All Living Things: Nuwada. Animals taught him what friendship was, dammit, and he is never going to forget it, even if his wife is sick of cleaning up bird droppings. He used to write nothing but children's books about animals in the hopes of instilling the same values into others, and plans to buy a cage bird for the sole purpose of setting it free.
  • Ill Girl: Isobe's wife. Nuwada provides a male example.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Tsukada is reduced to cannibalising a dead friend of his in order to survive and protect Kiguchi. This haunts him long after the war.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Mitsuko's relationship with Ōtsu in college is dedicated to figuring out just what, if anything, could corrupt his faith in God. He does renounce Christianity...temporarily, and the brief lapse only reinforces his beliefs.
  • Japanese Christian: Figuring out what it means to be this is the whole point of Ōtsu's storyline.
  • Jerk Ass: Sanjō. He gets a man's neck broken while trying to snap a rare photograph, and shows no sign of caring or even noticing.
  • Messianic Archetype: Played with by Ōtsu. He is sincere and almost childlike in his faith, and much of his life parallels that of Christ, including the "going out into the streets to help the poor and sick" part. It's indirectly because of him that much of the story even happens, but Mitsuko, the one he's arguably helped the most, persists in calling him a fool and mocking him whenever the opportunity arises.
  • Mondegreen: Deliberately used in the text. After a violent riot, Mitsuko asks a nun why she works as a volunteer nurse in such a dangerous time. They're in a very noisy area, such that the answer could be "we have nothing to believe in except for this" or "except for Him"; Mitsuko thinks both are likely answers, but we never learn what was really said.
  • Oh, Crap: Just when it looks like things are going more or less OK, it's announced that Indira Gandhi has been assassinated.
    • "He's taken a turn for the worse."
  • Reincarnation: Isobe's wife believes that "life never ends" and she will eventually be reborn somewhere. So naturally he has to find her.
  • Rich Bitch: Sanjō's wife. She spends the entire book whining about how it's too hot (in India, in midsummer) and wanting to go shopping.
  • Shout-Out: To Shirley MacLaine, bizarrely enough. Mitsuko and pals regularly drop references to French literature as well.
  • Title Drop: Twice. The page quote above, and this:
    Mitsuko: It's a deep river. So deep I feel as though it's not just for the Hindus, but for everyone.

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alternative title(s): Deep River
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