Volcano : a novel

by Shūsaku Endō

Other authorsRichard A. Schuchert (Translator)
Hardcover, 1978




New York : Taplinger Publishing Co, 1980, c1978.


Two men - one a Japanese volcanologist, the other an unfrocked Catholic priest - both become obsessed with Akadake, a quiescent volcano either in its death throes or taking on renewed life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
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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LibraryThing member andrewreads
Volcano does a very good job conveying the inner turmoil a person encounters when they are forced to doubt that which they believe in the most. In this case, the protagonist has spent 20+ years monitoring a volcano in southern Japan. He has collected reams and reams of data and has come to the conclusion that the volcano has become dormant and will never erupt again. Based on his conclusions, people have started building at the base of the mountain. And then he retires. And then he starts to see (hallucinate?) signs that the volcano might not actually be dormant...

So what would you do? You could second-guess yourself and issue warnings to the builders/people near the base of the volcano, potentially saving thousands of lives. But this would mean admitting that your life's work has likely been for nothing. Ignoring/sacrificing your wife and children to pursue your research was all for nothing. You'd lose honor and credibility and bring shame to your family. Alternatively, you could say nothing. And hope and wish and cross your fingers that the mountain doesn't erupt and bury people in burning lava. Neither of these options is particularly attractive.

As someone who has done a lot of research in a laboratory setting, I can relate to the allure of ignoring data that doesn't fit your hypothesis. Being right is such a nice thing! Especially when you've staked a portion of your reputation on your findings. But that's not how science works, so...

Anyway, this book is pretty good. The pacing is nice and while the translation feels a little hokey at times, overall it's very readable. Especially for something that is so introspective. I'm happy to have read this and I look forward to reading more Endō in the future.
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