THE CUSTOM HOUSE by Francis King


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Welling, an Australian missionary in Kyoto, faced with the choice between martyrdom and inglorious escape, gives a sermon before he chooses the latter in which he states his position; ""Let us then be content to await that final custom house examination."" Previously however, both he and the other characters in Francis King's new novel have already endured a good deal of reproof and censure at the author's hands in this close-up of postwar Japan. Here, in Kyoto, the twain have not only met but seemingly intermingle; there's Welling, who while living with various reminders of shame and failure, falls in love with Sanae, a student in his Bible class; there's Sanae, whose loveliness is on public view in a strip joint, and who arouses not only Welling but also Furomoto, a wealthy tycoon and a repellent lecher. Then there's Bill Knox, who teaches ""English... with a leal Oxford accent"" at the University, and his ineffectual attempt to achieve a more intimate relationship with Furomoto's niece, the emancipated (two years at Vassar) Setsuko. The story itself, while centering on these five, gains a certain impetus with Sanae's murder and Welling's implication in that murder. But it is primarily an attempt to show that East is still East and it is as enigmatic as ever; there has been no real rapprochement, and face is still a vast, impermeable presence.... it is a clever and uncharitable book, with so many insistently unlovely physical details that the author may well have estranged rather than enlightened his potential public.

Pub Date: May 11th, 1962
Publisher: Doubleday