Somber, haunting stories that resonate with compassion, eloquence, and metaphor. Once again, Endo (Foreign Studies, 1990, etc.) explores the themes for which he is famous: Roman Catholics in Japan, the illness and fear of aging, the pain of divorce, the loneliness of childhood. In this collection of 11 stories written over the last 30 years, autobiography continues to take a front seat: Endo finds inspiration in his own experience with lung disease to address physical suffering; in his parents' loveless relationship to address loss of innocence and compromise; in his own experience with Christianity to address, as the apostate in the almost epic title story, the question of whether or not it is all right to be afraid and run away from a commitment to Christianity in the face of persecution; and in his increasing age to tackle nostalgia, regret, and resignation. To make these heavy topics even murkier, they often overlap in ways that would be overwhelming to someone without Endo's fresh and gentle touch. Spiritual decline feels natural as ``A Fifty-year-old Man,'' a disillusioned husband, offers an almost comic look at watching his dog die a slow death. In ``Shadows,'' it's a relief when a writer finally understands that he doesn't understand the priest who was his childhood mentor, nemesis, and betrayer. And we recognize the writer in ``The Box'' who follows the trail of postcards he finds in an antiques shop to discover love, betrayal, and espionage while wondering if ``perhaps I think up such nonsensical, irrational things because I am getting old.'' What might otherwise feel like giving up becomes giving in to the unrecognized power of the human condition. This is the precious uncertainty of all of Endo's delicate dreams. A strange celebration of life and death that is wise but never weary.