[Silence] by [[Shusaku Endo]]
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Thinking about the concept of "silence".....It seems to me that it can mean three basic things: death, perfect peace, total fear
Why do you think Endo shifts from the narration in the form of Father Rodriguez's letters to third person narration at the beginning of Chapter 5? Why not use third person all along?
This piece of historical fiction was written in 1967 by Shusaku Endo. It is deceptively simple in terms of the writing. In fact, it raises profound questions of faith, of culture, and of the meaning of silence. A priest from Portugal journeys to Japan in the 1600s during a period of Japanese persecution of Christians, primarily Catholic missionaries. Father Rodrigues hopes to further the spread of his faith and to also determine if his revered teacher has indeed apostatized, renouncing his faith, as has been reported. As I began the book I thought of three meanings of silence: death, perfect peace, and total fear. Let's just say that Father Rodrigues discovered and struggled with the fourth, the silence of God in the face of suffering. I will not reveal his resolution, but it is worth reading to find out. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.
I have just started Silence and started musing like Hemlokgang about the concept of silence. I thought about silence as the absence of sounds, words and life. I thought about God's silence in the face of suffering and about the silence of the Christians as they were being tortured and refused to renounce their faith. It also found it ironic that the Catholic missionaries have gone to Japan to preach the gospel and spread the word of God ended up silent, either silenced in death or silent in not apostatising their faith.
The eagerness of the young priests to travel to Japan astounds me. They have heard the reports about Japanese torture methods and yet they still want to go to find their old teacher.
Finished Silence. Father Rodrigues finally discovers the reason for God's silence in the face of unbearable suffering by the Christian people of Japan.
#5 It was disconcerting to go from first person to third person in Chapter 5 and then Chapter 10 is extracts from a diary of a clerk in a dutch firm with more diary extracts in the Appendix this time from an officer at the Christian residence where Father Rodrigues spent his last years.
Also from Chapter 5, Rodrigues is referred to as "the priest" and only named when another priest/father is conversing with him. The first 4 chapters are letters from Father Rodrigues to an un-named correspondent. He is betrayed at the end of Chapter 4 and captured by the Japanese authorities. He is "silenced" and can no longer communicate with the outside world from Chapter 5 on.
I love the metaphor of Japan as a swamp in which Christianity is a tree that seems to flourish initially but is actually rotting from the roots up.
There's so much in this book to think about long after you finish the book - the question of weak vs strong characters, east vs west, christianity and how strong you could be if your own faith/principles were challenged.
I just finished Silence last night - it is a beautiful book, and it really did make me think about the silence of God, and faith, and all the other things socialpages mentions.
For most of the book, I found Rodrigues really frustrating and naive. All that "glorious martyrdom" business - sure, go ahead and sacrifice yourself for your beliefs if that's your thing, but how dare these priests let other people die for them. For that matter, how could Rodrigues expect God to answer his prayers when for most of the book, those prayers were essentially "Please, God, let me stick to the dogma and not deviate from it when the hurting part starts". Ultimately, I think, he makes the right decision, even though it is difficult when reality interferes with what you believe.
***SPOILER***#9 I agree, the point in the book where I admire Rodrigues is when he decides to stop the torture of others by sacrificing his beliefs.
Your paraphrasing of Rodrigues' prayers made me laugh... it's spot on.
This book reminded me of Grahame Greene's Power and the Glory where catholic priests are persecuted in Mexico in the 1920s though Greene's priest makes different choices.
I'm about 3/4 through this one. I agree with #6, above, that the writing is deceptively simple and the book has much to say. As other have said, it's a thought-provoking consideration of faith and doubt, the silence of God, the clash of culture and religion, and more.
socialpages, I like your analysis of the shifting in the narration. Very helpful insights!
A movie for Silence is being planned, to be directed by Martin Scorsese.
I read this in 2008. LOVED it. My review:
Based on a true story about the persecution and torture of Japanese Christians and foreign missionaries in 1600s Japan, Silence is a powerful book about faith (and doubt), truth, and the human spirit. What will make one person stay true to his faith, even under unspeakable torture, while another one does not? Why is God silent during suffering? These are the questions the book raises, and some would say it gives no clear answers. It is easy to say from our comfortable Western homes that we would never deny God under duress. But the Bible states that even Peter, a much loved disciple, denied Christ. What does it truly mean to stay faithful to God?
Repeating the prayer again and again he tried wildly to distract his attention; but the prayer could not tranquilize his agonized heart. ‘Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent…?’
This book powerfully affected me, and I’ve already sought out more books by this Japanese Christian author.
I finished Silence this morning. I couldn't help thinking about the fact that, while these events were going on in Japan, the Portuguese Inquisition was torturing and executing heretics and non-believers back in Europe. If the missionaries had been successful in largely converting the Japanese, the inquisitioners would have been right on their heels ready to torture the remaining non-believers. So I had no sympathy for Rodruigues and his kind. Win or lose, they were the harbingers of death and suffering and knew it.
Having said that, what I found interesting about the novel wasn't just the idea of God's silence, but the silence of the individual conscience. Each believer has his own notion of God and faith that is independent of outward symbols and doctrine. I think Rodrigues comes to realize that his idea of God is as much a product of his own desires and imagination as the Church's teachings. This is why he continues to refer to his own mental image of Christ's face as being different from the iconography. Thus the poignant question: How can I expect others to die for my faith when every man's faith is his own?
I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is an intense and penetrating look at the travails of a Catholic missionary in 17th century Japan, after Christianity has been outlawed and its believers subjected to torture, and a deep and thought-provoking meditation on the meaning of faith. It is also beautifully written, and provides a vivid portrait of Japan as seen through Portuguese eyes as written by a Japanese author.
On the other hand . . . I not only have difficulty comprehending this depth of faith but also, as a non-Christian, I have never been able to understand the extensive, if not extreme, proselytizing of Christianity, the need to convert as many others as possible to its beliefs. It seems patronizing to me: "we know what's best for you." These feelings colored my reading of the book because, while I was appalled by the Japanese methods of torture (although torture has certainly been practiced by those professing to be Christians too), I could understand why they wanted to keep such a foreign (and colonizing) religion out of their country. Nor do I understand the appeal of martyrdom. I also found a little peculiar the way the protagonist, Father Rodrigues, seems to compare his suffering to that of Jesus, and his betrayer to Judas. Perhaps this would not be disturbing to someone who is Christian, so perhaps this reflects a lack of understanding on my part, but it seems a little self-aggrandizing to me.
The overall question, of the silence of God, is more interesting. The 20th century, when this book was written, was a century of evil and suffering on a huge scale, and therefore this question is of even more import now than it was when Father Rodrigues traveled to Japan. Additionally, Endō, himself a devoted Catholic, alludes to the issue of how a western religion like Christianity can adapt itself to an eastern culture like that of Japan. Had he explored this more, I might have found more to like about the book.
As it is, I can only think that, throughout the centuries, not only have people of various religions persecuted and killed people of other religions but, as my grandfather liked to say, more wars have been fought over religion than for any other reason (not sure if this is strictly true). I wish I could say this book helped me understand faith more, but it left me just as puzzled.
An excellent review rebeccanyc!
I have yet to read this but it sits on my shelf waiting! If you want to try a less religious book by Endo try finding a copy of The Girl I Left Behind about the state of leprosy in Japan although it'll leave you frustrated at the main character's personality.
not sure if this is strictly true
No, it isn't true. Neither Hitler nor Stalin were religious people, to say the least, nor were any of the other dictators throughout history with murderous atheistic ideologies.
#18 Well, I don't have enough knowledge to get into an informed discussion about this (nor is this the place), but just to clarify, I was talking about number of wars, not numbers (however obscenely large) of people killed. And I would categorize an atheist going to war against believers (or vice versa) as a religious war.
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