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Volcano by Shusaku Endo

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Jan 8, 2012, 9:01am Top

Volcano was originally published in 1959, and is set the town of Kagoshima on Kyushu Island, which is situated at the edge of a dormant volcano, Akadaké. Suda Kun has just retired after a long career as the Section Chief of the Surveillance Section of the regional Weather Bureau. He was called the "Akadaké Demon", as he claimed to know more about the volcano than anyone else on the island, despite his lack of a formal education. He wishes to publish a book about his research in order to cement his reputation, and agrees to help Aiba, a local city councilman, in a profit making scheme in exchange for financial support of his book.

Father Sato is the popular leader of a small but growing Catholic church in town, who has replaced Father Durand, a Frenchman who was removed for committing apostasy. Durand, embittered by his fall, receives frequent visits by Sato, but he belittles his former assistant and his plans to build a sanctuary for his followers on the side of the volcano.

Suda and Durand are felled by serious illness, and are faced with their own mortality. At the same time Akadaké is showing signs of renewed life after decades of dormancy, which threaten the plans of Aiba and Father Sato. Suda, who has proclaimed that the volcano is permanently dormant, chooses to ignore clues which indicate that it is becoming active. Durand actively tries to undermine Sato's position and the faith of the people he formerly ministered to. Both men face their own mortality and guilt about their past behavior, while the smoking volcano towers over them ominously, as if in judgment of them.

Volcano is a superbly written and dark yet hopeful novel, whose two main characters experience torment and guilt in the face of imminent death. Suda's lack of compassion toward his wife and sons and Durand's lack of belief in the faith of his parishioners lead directly to the fall of each man, as the volcano serves as a metaphor for both good and evil, and as a symbol of the unchanging power of Nature and God.

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