Shusaku Endo is that rarest of Japanese creatures: a lifelong Christian. In a country where the church comprises less than 1 percent of the population, he was raised by a devout Christian mother and baptized at the age of 11. Even more amazing, Endo, Japan’s foremost novelist, writes books with Christian themes that invariably end up on our national best-seller lists.

His work has won praise from such writers as John Updike and Graham Greene, and he is often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In Japan he has become something of a cultural hero, and he even hosts a nighttime television talk show. Seven of Endo’s novels have been translated into English, but his name is also on seminary reading lists, for his most popular book here has been A Life of Jesus, his personal account of faith.

Growing up as a Christian in prewar Japan, Endo felt a constant sense of alienation. After the war he traveled to France in order to pursue his studies of such French Catholic novelists as Francois Mauriac and Georges Bernanos. But Lyon in 1949 hardly made him feel welcome: He was spurned this time on account of race, not religion. The Allies had cranked out a steady stream of anti-Japanese propaganda, and Endo found himself the target of much racial abuse.

Rejected in his homeland, rejected in his spiritual homeland, Endo underwent a grave crisis of faith. He spent several years researching the life of Jesus in Palestine, and while there he made a transforming discovery: Jesus, too, knew rejection. More, Jesus’ life was defined by rejection. His neighbors laughed at him, his family sometimes questioned his sanity, his closest friends betrayed him, and his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist. While on ...

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