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The Girl I Left Behind by Endo Shusaku

The Girl I Left Behind (私が棄てた女), first published in 1964, is one of the earlier novels of Endo Shusaku (遠藤 周作).

The Girl I Left Behind by Endo Shusaku

Set in post-war Tokyo, the story follows the lives of two young people: Yoshioka Tsutomu, a university student who is desperate for a woman, and Morita Mitsu, a naive 19-year-old country girl who lives and works in the city. Mitsu is, as the title suggests, the main character of the story.

Yoshioka meets Mitsu after answering her post in a magazine in which she expresses her desire to meet others who love movies like her. Mitsu has a sincere desire to connect with others. She genuinely likes Yoshioka and naively thinks of him as something like the “cool college guy”. To him, Mitsu is just someone he wants to use and then discard, which he indeed does so.

Later, Yoshioka graduates and finds a job at a nail wholesale business. He dates Miura Mariko, the chairman’s niece. He does not do so with the ulterior motive of securing his career. He does actually like her. In short, despite his questionable attitude and conduct, his life seems to work out for him as an ordinary “salary man”.

On the other hand, Mitsu, for a little while at least, still harbors some hope of meeting up with Yoshioka again. She eventually gives up despite her feelings. She continues with her part-time jobs and to being her usual self; that is, sympathizing with others, sometimes without thinking, and at other times with reluctance but in the end yielding to that voice, her conscience. Yoshioka describes her thus:

It was not so much that Mitsu was friendly. Rather she had this habit of empathizing with anyone who appeared wretched or bitter. And this was more than just empathy. Forgetting herself completely, she would do her utmost to comfort the person in need. She must have acquired this ridiculous sensitivity over the years from sentimental movies and the amusement magazines such as Bright Star that she looked at on her days off.

Soon after, Mitsu is diagnosed with a life-changing disease.

The narrative alternates between the viewpoint of Yoshioka and Mitsu. Yoshioka’s point of view is in the form of a diary, obviously in first-person, looking back at his life starting from just before he met Mitsu. Her point of view is written in third-person omniscient voice.

As one of Endo’s earlier works, the prose at times is mildly clumsy, although this is (presumably) in part due to the nature of the Japanese language and the way it has to be translated into English if the translation is to be faithful. There are times when it is a little tell-heavy. Endo admits to his “immature technique” (although he doesn’t describe what that is to him).

Like Endo’s other works, The Girl I Left Behind explores the meaning of suffering through Mitsu, the Christ figure of the story. Two ordinary young people with their struggles in a city setting with some “slice of life” storytelling may seem mundane, but it is for that reason that the story is relatable, and not just intellectually relatable but an emotionally charged story that effectively deals with the themes.


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