Review: Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Shūsaku Endō (1923-1996) was a Japanese writer famed for incorporating his Roman Catholicism as a theme into his work. Silence, originally published in 1966 is a novel set in the 1630s and which centres around the young Portuguese Catholic priest, Rodrigues, who sets off from Portugal with his fellow priest and missionary, Garupe. The two have heard rumours concerning another missionary, Father Ferreira, and his apostasy (Rodrigues knew Ferreira back in Portugal) and about the dreadful persecution of Christians in Japan, but feel compelled to go nevertheless. The clampdown on Christians involved depictions of torture and execution, which was of course, unpleasant, but this certainly took place in Japan during this time.

During their time in Japan, they meet Kichijiro, a Japanese Christian man whose actions have direct consequences for the protagonist (so do pay attention to him when he first appears, as I didn’t).

I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with tall the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijiro was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent.”
Shūsaku Endō, Silence

This book has been influential and important to many people, not least director Martin Scorsese, who has a feature film based on this novel out now and starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver.

Ultimately, this story was moving – especially the major crisis of faith that Rodrigues undergoes – and other parts haunting and deeply human. I found this book very interesting in other respects as well, as I am not very knowledgeable about seventeenth-century Japan. This story, however, piqued my interest in the subject – and I look forward to learning more about it in due course.


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