A Book Review: Volcano by Shusaku Endo

c9b085fd50c16dd597845745067444341587343This novel 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.

3.5 stars! (out of 5)

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Miles run in 2014: 26.8
Books read in 2014: 8

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