Volcano by Shushaku Endo and translated by Richard A Schuchert is a novel about growing old. It is set in Japan and centres around an island which contains a dormant volcano. This volcano becomes a focus for two men – one is a weather watcher and the other a defrocked French Catholic priest who has lived and served in Japan most of his adult life.
Both men are old. As one retires from his job having faithfully recorded the volcano all his working life he has reams of figures and observations that he wants to make into a book. He is staking his career on the volcano staying dormant but as smoke begins to appear he is worried that his life’s work means nothing. Then he has a stroke and slowly becomes aware that not only is everything that he thought about the volcano possible wrong but so is everything he thought about his status in society and his position in the family. He begins to realise that his whole life has been of value to no one other than himself.
The priest was removed from his calling for his behaviour with a woman parishioner. At least that is what we are told because although we are given some of his backstory we don’t get everything from his past. He is old and in hospital and the object of scorn, fear and pity from those who remember him. He knows that his life has had no meaning and he wants to shake things up a bit. He would be delighted to see the volcano erupt as that would add some excitement into the lives of everyone around him, He does everything he can to stir things up but slowly begins to realise that he is ineffectual.
This is a sad book and not terribly encouraging about old age. The author seems to be saying that after a certain age these men are of no benefit to society and that nothing they do is important. They may think that they still have an impact but everyone around them is just pretending. The author offers few reassurances other than that the volcano will do whatever it wants whatever people think it should do – some things go on even as our life comes to a close.
This is a short book but I found it interesting. I had never heard of the author before and I don’t think I am going to seek out his other work but I am glad that I read it – it made me think.