In a frank afterword, the eminent Japanese author (of Deep River, p. 89, etc.) concedes that this early novel--written ``some thirty-five years ago''--appears by contemporary standards both politically incorrect and technically immature. It's a bit better than that. In tracing the almost lifelong relationship between Yoshioka Tsutomu, a thoughtless salesman, and Mitsu, the credulous village girl whom he seduces and abandons--and whose path continues to cross his long years afterward--Endo makes clear that rejecting the selfless and generous Mitsu was tantamount to denying Christ, and that such is not done lightly. This unfortunately simplistic apprentice work is thus redeemed both by some incisive character analysis and by its fervent exploration of conflicted religiosity and of the protean forms spirituality takes. It also shows us in the making the accomplished later novelist for whom the exploration of embattled religious faith has become both his obsessive subject and his greatest strength.