Silence

A One-Page Review of the novel by Shusaku Endo

Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious to the wounds he has left behind.

Cover for Silence.
Silence. Ed. 2016. Published by Picador Modern Classics.

Silence is a Japanese historical novel set in the 17th century. Japan has closed its borders to all but Dutch traders. The country is closed to Christian missionaries. The new magistrate, Inoue, has led a successful campaign of persecution against Christians, causing many to apostatize—including the highly respected Father Ferreira. Two of Ferreira’s formers students, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe, decide to go to Japan to discover the truth of Ferreira’s fate and to minister to the hidden Christians.

The novel is told from multiple perspectives: Rodrigues’s letters, third-person, journals from a Dutch trader, and government documents. Each section increases the distance between the reader and Rodrigues.

The major theme of this book is the struggle to maintain faith while God is silent. Rodrigues witnesses horrific tortures that are not designed to kill, but to cause apostasy. In particular, if priests apostatize, it shows the inferiority of the Christian faith when compared to Japanese culture. Through his novel, Endo attempts to wrestle with why Christianity has had difficulty taking root in Japan. But he also challenges the missionary perspective of Rodrigues and the concept of what a faithful Christian looks like. He introduces the idea that Rodriguez couldn’t truly hear God in this situation until his understanding of Christianity had been challenged and stripped away.

This is a brilliant work of art that asks hard questions about faith and suffering.

Verdict: Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, Japanese culture, and thoughtful contemplation about faith. The edition I read had an introduction that explained the historical context of the story. The descriptions of the persecutions are very unpleasant, but the novel itself doesn’t go in to as much detail about the specifics.

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