Scandal by Shusaku Endo
(Penguin Books, 1990, 240 pages)
Scandal is a novel by the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo. It tells the story of Suguro, an acclaimed and aging novelist whose books are characterized by their articulation of Catholic morality. He is disturbed to discover that he has a doppelganger who has been seen frequenting the city’s sex district. This initially presents Suguro with a problem of reputation. However, as he investigates into the identity of his imposter, Suguro begins to discover the depths of depravity that exist just beneath his own respectable exterior.
This novel is a spiritual thriller of sorts. It is uncomfortably autobiographical. Endo, who built his reputation on novels that wrestle with the compatibility of Catholicism and Japanese culture, wrote Scandal toward the end of his career (it was originally published in 1986). It is impossible to miss the parallels between the protagonist and the author. The more that Suguro wrestles with the baseness of his own thoughts, impulses, and desires, the more the novel seems like a self-indictment of Endo. In this respect, it is a brutally honest illustration of the doctrine of original sin and its consequences. It is fascinating to see this traditionally European concept expressed in the context of Japan’s honor culture.
Graham Greene, another important twentieth-century Catholic novelist, championed Endo and did much to promote him to an English-speaking audience. Endo’s novels, and Scandal in particular, are similar in many ways to Greene’s books. While Greene shows the scandalous nature of a Christian understanding of the supernatural in a largely secular society, Endo depicts the seeming incompatibility of Christian ideas with traditional Japanese culture. Scandal should be of interest to those who enjoy the novels of Graham Greene and to those who are interested in the relationship of Christianity to non-Western cultures.