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July 14, 1996|CHARLES SOLOMON

DEEP RIVER by Shusaku Endo, translated from the Japanese Van C. Gessel (New Directions: $10.95, 216 pp.). Endo contrasts the earthy sensuality of the holy Hindu city of Varanasi (Benares) with the sterile opulence of modern Japan in this thoughtful novel. His characters have come to India to find a peace unobtainable in their materialistic culture. Isobe grieves for the wife he ignored while she was alive; Kiguchi struggles with memories of his wartime actions; Mitsuko hopes to fill the void at the center of her life. The Ganges promises an all-embracing forgiveness despite its burden of human ashes and wastes. Endo compares the sacred river to the suffering mother-goddess, Chamunda: "An image not of a mother's plenitude and gentleness, but of an old woman reduced to skin and bones and gasping for breath. Despite it all, she was still a mother."

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