I am impressed with what Shusaku Endo has accomplished in "Foreign Studies". I have read 4 or 5 other books by this author and have been impressed with them as well although on varying levels. I, frankly, did not expect this book to rate as one of his best. However, in his ability to create an image of what it is like to live and function in a very different culture, Endo touched me with a message that may be easier to experience than to explain.
This is a book of three stories very properly woven into one theme. The initial two are very brief but help set the table. The first, "A Summer in Rouen" gives an excellent snapshot of a foreign student's trials and tribulations of dealing with different cultural standards. I, as a Westerner, sense the over-reaction that the student makes. Presumably someone from and Eastern culture would be more sensitive to the "saving face" that the Japanese student has to contend with. As someone who was a foreign student and has worked with foreign students, I wouldn't mind making this short story mandatory to all traveling abroad as a foreign student. For the record, tourists cannot understand the experience that a foreign student goes through. A tourist is sightseeing; a student becomes a part of the community. The essential challenge for the foreign student is how deeply are they able to integrate into a different culture.
The second and briefest of the three stories is "Araki Thomas" which is a biography of a 16th Century Japanese Christian priest who journeyed to Rome. He returned to a Japan that had banned the Christian faith and persecuted those who continued to practice and preach it. The common ground with the other stories lies with a man's struggle to accept a faith that has been molded into a European interpretation. His acceptance of the faith defined by another culture alienated him from his own culture and his fall from grace was a tragic comment on the pitfalls he faced in doing so.
The final story comprises over 3/4's of the book and is titled "And You, Too". It is the story of a Japanese professor who goes abroad to research in France in the 1960's. He experiences, on a grander scale, the problems of the character in the first book. The story of Tanaka is in more detail and includes many examples of fellow Japanese living in France. All of them seem to experience their own complications in being who they are in a world that seems to have neither the time nor interest to understand things on their level. Adding to the impact of the book is the subject that Tanaka i researching; the Marquie de Sade. While I struggled somewhat with this analogy, I understood that the author was comparing a man nearly 2 centuries earlier who was alien to his own culture and surroundings.
It is difficult to always empathize with Tanaka's problems as he seems to become his own worst enemy. However, Endo has created an image in "Foreign Studies" that I felt was profound. I will not try to explain the gist of Endo's theories as portrayed in "Foreign Studies" because that is the whole point of reading "Foreign Studies". If any of this seems the least bit interesting you really should read the book. If not, read "Deep River" instead with its' compelling analogy of the commonality of world faith.