Endo’s Christian Novel, “Silence” – A Book Review

c. 1632

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The Japanese writer Shusaku Endo’s interest in the silence of God led him to provide his 1969 novel on the subject with the mere title, Silence.

The time is the 1600s.  Two Catholic priests from Portugal sail to Japan to spiritually aid the Christians there and to find out why a fellow priest called Father Ferreira apparently apostatized.  The shocking torture of Christians both Japanese and European has routinely occurred in Japan (at the hands of Japanese authorities) any time a believer has refused to trample on the engraved image of Jesus called the fumie.  The novel’s hero, Father Rodrigues, is a godly man, but he is bothered by God’s silence in the face of the suffering he beholds–and he perforce confronts the possibility of becoming a “fallen priest” in such a treacherous land.

Is there a form of Christian “fallenness” that is justified, at least when faith remains in the heart?

Clumsy prose prevails in Silence (“Banging his head against the wall he kept murmuring monotonously:  “It cannot be so . . .”), but the novel is sobering.  I must ask, however:  Are persecuted born-again Catholic priests really concerned about the silence–or “silence”– of God?  Perhaps it depends on the nature of the persecution.  Much of the novel’s meaning, in any case, is rather questionable.  It is not as fine an accomplishment as the novels of Mauriac and Bernanos, who, like the late Endo, were devout Catholics.  But it is assuredly religious and hardly uninteresting.   

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