intraspace: the review lounge

Sunday, March 18, 2007


silence, by shusaku endo

this was a novel i was inspired to read by reading about it in philip yancey's book 'soul survivor'. i got this copy from mum for christmas.

endo has been called 'japan's foremost novelist' and 'silence' (first published in 1969) has been called 'one of the finest novels of our time' by graham greene. endo is a catholic christian, and much of his work deals with the tension between his catholicism/christianity and his japanese culture. in japan, christianity is viewed as a foreigner's religion, but when endo went abroad, he found that he didn't fit into the western world either. so that's a bit of back story on endo.

this is a historical novel set in the time of the missionary endeavours that were undertaken by europe into japan in the 1600s. the samurai class became increasingly alarmed with the effect that christianity was having on traditional japanese society, and outlawed all western mission work. widespread persecution broke out against japanese christians who were tortured for their faith and forced to renounce or be killed.

the main character of this book, rodrigues - a portuguese missionary brother - is sent to japan to carry out christian work despite the new persecution and the fact that others who have gone before him have disappeared and are rumoured to have apostatised...

the samurai force christians to renounce their faith by placing their foot on a picture of christ. this is the position that rodrigues is put in when he is captured. the novel hinges on the ethical dilemma and crisis of faith that he faces about whether to recant, and thereby save the japanese peasants that are being tortured for his sake, or to hold fast to his faith and die a martyr's death.

an excellent and heart-wrenching book.

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