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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Foreign Studies

by
Endo Shusaku


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Foreign Studies



Title: Foreign Studies
Author: Endo Shusaku
Genre: Novel
Written: 1965 (Eng. 1989)
Length: 232 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Foreign Studies - US
Foreign Studies - UK
Foreign Studies - Canada
  • Japanese title: 留学
  • Translated and with a Foreword by Mark Williams
  • With an Introduction by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an interesting, and interestingly conceived, triptych

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 13/5/1989 Mary Hope
The LA Times . 13/5/1990 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/5/1990 Rachel Billington
Sunday Times . 21/5/1989 Peter Kemp
The Times . 18/5/1989 Andrew Sinclair
TLS . 28/4/1989 Louis Allen
The Washington Post . 6/5/1990 John B. Breslin


  Review Consensus:

  Quite good, but only second-tier Endo

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hat he is really suffering from is, of course, not disease but disOrientation. ['And You Too'] is an immaculate, limpid moral tale, beautifully translated into English, in which the snow and fogs of wintry France express both a Japanese pictorial sense and an impressive symbolic control." - Mary Hope, Financial Times

  • "Tanaka’s story, entitled 'And You Too,' is the comic and disquieting is the centerpiece of Foreign Studies. Like its two companion stories, but more profoundly, it is a statement by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo about the pain between East and West. Each, experiencing the other, misappropriates the other. (...) There are oddly awkward bits in the story (.....) Yet the cumulative effect is astonishing. 'And You Too' wields a variety of effects, from a comedy of academic intrigue, to a Jamesian portrait of cross-cultural misunderstanding, to the hauntingly surreal quality of Tanaka’s pilgrimage around France in pursuit of Sade’s presence, to a real and profound sadness." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Ostensibly, Foreign Studies tackles the vast separation between East and West, but there are constant undertones of this more personal theme. The hardest problem for Christian creative artists is to avoid imposing their moral code on their characters. (...) Everything Shusaku Endo writes is worth reading -- as good literature (although I find it difficult to judge his style, which seems to vary according to translator) but, more importantly, for his exploration of human nature. (...) Foreign Studies does not show Mr. Endo at his most intricate and brilliant, but it adds a further dimension to his later great works." - Rachel Billington, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Oriental disorientation is the subject of the three tales making up Shusaku Endo's Foreign Studies. In each tale a Japanese student learns his limitations during a visit to Europe that baffles and upsets him. Far from widening horizons, travel leads to an impasse. The first and best of the stories [is] 'A Summer in Rouen'" - Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

  • "These descriptions of alienation were written 20 years ago, before Endo reached that insight into a psychology of mankind that has led to his international recognition." - Andrew Sinclair, The Times

  • "We are used by now to Endō's obsession with medicine and hospitals, and Foreign Studies is no exception; but, like the excursus on Sade's life, it seems episodic in relation to the main theme, the impermeability of culture." - Louis Allen, Times Literary Supplement

  • "This seems to imply that, even deeper than "culture," there exists a human dynamic that unites individuals; but, Endo suggests, it is as often demonic as celestial. Tanaka's shadow-figure here is Sade" - John B. Breslin, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Endō Shūsaku begins his Introduction by noting that: "The reader of Foreign Studies may be surprised that the novel comprises three separate parts". The three parts -- 'A Summer in Rouen', 'Araki Thomas', and 'And You, Too' -- are, in fact, distinct stories, with no overlap of characters or the like, and English-language reviewers (and translator Mark Williams, in his Foreword) have described the book as a story-collection -- linked by a common theme (the experience of a Japanese student/scholar in Europe) but nothing more. It is arguably even a rather lopsided collection, not three roughly equally weighted variations on the theme, but rather two small stabs at it and one much more extensive exploration, as the first two parts are twenty-five and twelve pages long respectively, while the final one clocks in at novel-length all on its own, at 180 pages. So Foreign Studies appears to be neither a conventional story collection nor a work adhering to the traditional novel-form; nevertheless, its three components are very much all of a piece.
       'A Summer in Rouen', set less than five years after the end of the Second World War, features Kudo, an exchange student participating in a program arranged by the Far East mission of the Roman Catholic Church seeking to "invite students from the East to study in every European country". It's a great opportunity, even if Kudo is less enthusiastic about the religious aspect to the whole project, the local French priest spelling out: "what you learn here will ultimately contribute to the mission effort in Japan", while literature-student Kudo is more interested in reading André Gide (which the priest frowns upon: "This is not the sort of book you should be reading" (but one advantage of being 'foreign' is that he can be excused for not knowing better ...)).
       The opportunity is open to Kudo because he was baptized and raised a Catholic, even if he is not a devout follower. It also means that he finds himself in the fold of a devout family for the summer, the Vealeauxes, who lost their own son right after the war. He had been a seminary student who had hoped to travel to Japan as a missionary; he would have been the same age as Kudo. His name was Paul -- by unfortunate coïncidence, Kudo's baptismal name, giving the family an excuse to call Kudo 'Paul' while he is with them: Kudo becomes, in every way, the dead son's stand-in, an inverse-Paul.
       When asked how he likes the rather sleepy-sounding little city of Rouen Kudo repeatedly says: "It's the kind of place I'd like to settle down in", but that's a polite formula-response. Even as the family he is staying with has essentially adopted him as stand-in for one of their own, his and their other-ness make for an immense divide, and it is no less in the community beyond. The seeming common element -- Catholicism -- makes for a limited bridge, not least because their experience of it is so different.
       The story begins with Kudo looking at his reflection in a mirror, as he does several times over the course of the short tale. It is a large mirror, with a small copper band and the words: "Use this mirror to change your appearance"; at one point, looking at his reflection, Kudo feels: "his 'true appearance' was nowhere to be seen". The conclusion of the story has him looking at a similar framed picture -- not a mirror, but the portrait of the lost son (with that: "nervous expression of his") -- another refracted image of a Kudo who, in this foreign place, finds himself unsure of his identity and being.
       (And, yes, Endō traveled to Europe in 1950, and he did spend time with a family in Rouen -- though he insists in his Introduction: "Needless to say, this protagonist is not myself; neither are his experiences mine".)
       'Araki Thomas' is based on an historical figure, Endō summarizing and speculating on the story of: "the Japanese man who studied in Rome in the seventeenth century". Endō describes how, in the late sixteenth century, "Christianity developed into a kind of vogue" in Japan, briefly -- and:

Araki Thomas was one of those new-style intellectuals to emerge in Japan during that period, having studied Latin and Portuguese and acquired a nodding acquaintance with ethics and the basics of religious study.
       With the volte-face of 1587, Christianity was suddenly no longer tolerated in Japan, and Araki went abroad -- eventually becoming: "the first Japanese student to travel to Europe", and returning to Japan only in 1618. Once back, he managed to remain undercover for a while but was arrested and quickly: "apostatized under torture", and eventually was prodded to convince other Christian prisoners to apostatize. Apparently he didn't suffer enough for his beliefs, as Endō closes his story by noting that his legacy in official Catholic circles isn't the most impressive:
Catholic sources describe him in the following terms: 'Japanese apostate. Studied in Europe. Received a rapturous welcome wherever he went -- but ultimately succumbed to pride.'
       Throughout the brief account, Endō repeatedly notes the absence of much of a record of almost anything in Araki's life (down to when he might have died, or his original Japanese name). He is a figure existing almost only in outlines -- allowing the novelist to imagine his progress around the few known facts. Short, 'Araki Thomas' is essentially a summary-story -- but effectively describing both European attitudes to this exotic visitor and the harsh crackdown on Christianity in the Japan of that time. While seemingly sticking to the factual, Endō does also strongly color the account with his interpretation, as in describing how: "Yet the more he enjoyed their friendship and expectations, the more melancholy Araki Thomas became".
       Melancholy pervades all three parts of Foreign Studies, as his Japanese-abroad never find their comfort zone. So also in the longest piece, 'And You, Too', which finds the young university lecturer Tanaka going to Paris for a lengthy research trip in the mid-1960s.
       The story begins with the last part of Tanaka's arrival -- a brief stopover in Hamburg and then then flight on to Paris -- and he already stands (or rather, stands himself) apart from the other Japanese travelers:
Everything about him seemed to be saying, 'We may all be Japanese, but I'm of a different race from you.' Having finished about hal his beer, he put on the beret which had been lying on the chair beside him and, book in hand, left the restaurant alone.
       The beret is a beautiful touch, and the whole quick scene perfectly sums up the would-be literary scholar. His unwillingness to engage with the small Japanese community in Paris continues to be one of his major problems -- and a hurdle to possible success, here or then looking ahead to his return to Japan. This issue becomes even more pronounced when he finds that a junior colleague, Suganuma, is also coming to Paris, further undermining his position at his department at the university back home: what should be a great stepping stone in Tanaka's career in fact turns out to be one that only helps further sideline him. (Of course: "Tanaka had chosen to study the rather drab eighteenth century, whereas Suganuma was engaged on research into post-war literature".) The contrast to how adroitly Suganuma navigates the French opportunities reïnforces the sense of how much of a fish out water Tanaka is -- more so in this foreign territory, but clearly also even on the (academic) turf he had hoped to claim as his own. (Endō perhaps goes a bit too far in rubbing in just how much better Suganuma is at everything in having him even having won over the student Tanaka has a fondness for. (Tanaka is married, with a young child, but the arranged marriage has paired him with someone he feels rather limited passion for. Of course, Tanaka is also the kind of husband who tells his wife that: "nothing could make one happier than the mundane".).
       If Suganuma exacerbates Tanaka's feelings of inadequacy and mediocrity, so does his research project: Tanaka is studying the Marquis de Sade, and he finds he can't measure up to the man: "he had come to worry more and more about the total lack of any connection between Sade and himself". So also he wonders:
Why had someone like himself become involved in the study of Sade ? Tanaka wondered whether he wouldn't have done better to pick on some more down-to-earth writer -- someone less flamboyant, less ambitious.
       As a university lecturer, writing about writers rather than being creative himself, Tanaka feels -- and is made to feel -- lesser. Sade is like a constant rebuke in that regard, too, triumphant despite all the adversity he faced, as:
the incarcerated writer is furnished with only one weapon with which to pursue his struggle. His only weapon is his power of creativity. With this power he has to construct the true society of his dreams away from real society.
       Tanaka makes the pilgrimage to various sites that figured in Sade's life, but of course the figure itself remains elusive: Tanaka can not in some way follow in his footsteps (in one snowy instance, literally), can not become like this man. Locales are important in 'And You, Too' -- Tanaka does a lot of sightseeing -- and it's also typical that, in Paris, he chooses to settle down in the hotel in which Proust spent his last years, and where he died.
       In his hotel, Tanaka befriends another Japanese -- another Japanese who, like him, has largely avoided the local Japanese community. An architect, he has been here longer, but he succumbs to TB and has to abandon his studies, returning to Japan as a failure; unsurprisingly, a similar fate awaits Tanaka (despite him telling himself, from when he first gets to know this Sakisaka: "I must not end up like that").
       Foreign Studies offers three different examples of Japanese encounters with Europe, each always also with an eye out on what the experience will mean when the protagonists return home (and, in each case, promising at least a form of failure: Kudo is surely anything but the evangelist those looking after him in France hope for; Araki betrays both country and then faith; and Tanaka's academic career is headed for several nasty bumps).
       The experiences abroad are less of disappointment than dissatisfaction, the protagonists unable to bridge East and West and instead wandering searchingly and frustratedly (there is quite a bit of wandering in all three pieces). Especially in 'And You, Too', other Japanese experiences are also presented, including those of some who have spent much longer in France and can't imagine going back and others who know how to use the foreign experience to enhance their positions back home, but none of Endō's central characters find a way of satisfactorily (or even resignedly) settling in between East and West. In no small part, of course, it's also due to issues of their own, the baggage they carry with them -- though certainly Kudo's situation isn't made any easier by the lingering presence of dead Paul.
       In one of the asides on Sade, Tanaka/Endō note (not quite correctly) that Sade's vision was so immense and far-reaching that:
Sade was unable to write short stories. The size of both The Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom and his great work Justine bear adequate testimony to the frantic yet earnest desire of Sade, the incarcerated writer, to overcome the real world outside and to stand in opposition to it.
       It sounds like a nod to Endō's undertaking here, the two first stories here trying to capture something in a small space, and then the realization that a much larger-scale (almost Sadean ...) take is needed.
       Melancholy, and in part downright bleak, Foreign Studies chronicles failure -- though the characters Endō uses leaves open the question of whether the failures are cultural or personal. Certainly, the confrontation with a very different world, culture, and history proves challenging for each of the protagonists -- in interestingly different ways, as Endō relies on three very different characters and situations. All in all it makes for a quite successful work -- if also a somewhat jarring mix.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 February 2020

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Links:

Foreign Studies: Reviews: Other books by Endo Shusaku under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Catholic Japanese author Endo Shusaku (Endō Shūsaku, 遠藤周作) lived 1923 to 1996.

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© 2020 the complete review

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