Author: Shūsaku Endō
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction, religion, classics
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Book Depository.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: In the 1640s, Father Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit priest, sets sail for Japan. His mission is to help the oppressed Japanese Christians and to find out whether or not his mentor Ferreira has renounced his faith, as the rumors claim. Rodrigues soon experiences the harsh reality of religious persecution firsthand, and as his suffering increases he is forced to make an impossible choice: abandon his flock or abandon his God.
“Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”
– Silence, Shūsaku Endō
“Silence” is a novel not only about faith and courage. As I see it it’s also a book about expectations, the kind of expectations you believe are placed on you, of weakness, both perceived and actual, of betrayal on more levels than just one, and of consequences, both immediate and longstanding. Maybe most of all this book is about the deep internal struggle and conflict of the individual, and the fact that even the best of intentions won’t always produce positive results for the ones you’re trying to help.
I have to admit that for me this was very slow and hard to properly get into to begin with. It took a little while for me to fully connect with Rodrigues’ journal entries, which make out the first part of the book. Once I did get into it however this quickly became an engrossing read. The narrative also eventually changes from journal entries to third person, which was a great change. You see the story from a different perspective this way, it becomes more inclusive, and I personally felt a much better connection with the protagonist. The prose, though slightly repetitive at times, is simple and beautiful, and Endō has a way of transporting you right into the middle of the scene with his descriptions. There’s just something about the bleak and grey atmosphere that simply grabs you.
The thing that stuck with me the most were the parallels drawn from Rodrigues to Jesus. These are powerful and constant and you can’t miss them. Rodrigues is a priest who sees his will as firm and his own faith as unwavering. He arrives in Japan with the clear image of being on the path of Christ, and that he himself will be the Christ figure of the story, but as the hostile environment gradually gains on him he soon finds that the reality is quite painfully something else. Rodrigues’ character starts out on one path but ends up walking another that he, and maybe we as readers, did not expect. In the midst of it all he questions why God answers his prayers with silence; how all this torture and murder can happen without God doing anything at all to stop it. Whether you agree with his views or not, this evokes a certain sympathy for him.
You can see this as a novel about the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan and put it in this historical perspective alone. On the surface, that’s what this book is dealing with and there is a lot of historical knowledge to gain from this. However, Endō himself was a Japanese Catholic who found that he had his faith on one hand and the Japanese culture on the other, and he struggled unifying the two. Therefore, “Silence” also has a strong underlying theme of the doubting Christian that might challenge some, but that I also think many can identify with in different ways. This is very much an emotional and thought-provoking read, and it’s a book that will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished it.