The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

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The Samurai by Shusaku Endo

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Mar 17, 2012, 11:17 am

I completed The Samurai after several week of reading. My review and excerpts below. (***mild spoilers***, but it isn't really a book of surprises anyway)

This is a brilliant novel with many of the same themes as other Endo novels: Eastern vs. Western Christianity, being lost in the world, and conflict between worldly knowledge and community tradition. I found the historical setting interesting and the character development was perfect. Velasco makes your blood run cold at the beginning and by the end he is transformed and you are wishing him well and saddened by his demise. In some ways, despite the title, Velasco is the main character.

The writing is paced and methodical. This is a book to savor 20 pages at a time. It does not begged to be rushed through and I think it was better to let each bit soak in slowly. Here of some of my favorite passages:

"It had never occurred to the samurai that there were so many new and different things to experience. He had not realized the world was so vast....But now a subtle transformation was taking place in his heart, and with it came a vague uneasiness and formless fear. He was setting foot in a new world. And he feared that cracks were beginning to form in the wall that had supported his heart until now, and that it would eventually crumble into dust." --- The Samurai

"Missionary work is like diplomacy. Indeed it resembles the conquest of a foreign land. In missionary work, as in diplomacy, one must have recourse to subterfuge and strategy, threatening at times, compromising at others---if such tactics serve to advance the spreading of God's word, I do not regard them as despicable or loathsome." --- Velasco

"...he had come home. Why was it that weariness and a sense of emptiness -- not joy-- were all that remained? Had he seen too much of too many things, until it was as if he had seen nothing at all? Had he experienced too much, until it was though he had experienced nothing at all? --- The Samurai

"The building in Nueva Espana and Espana were all brightly lit by the sun. They weren't anything like this castle. Everybody smiled when they talked. But here we can't smile as we want or talk as we want....So long as we are alive there is no escaping this darkness." --Nishi

This is not a quick read. Savor each passage; there are so many perfect ones. If taken this way it is a rewarding read. 4 stars.

Apr 18, 2012, 12:35 pm

I just noticed this one technodiabla!

Sounds like a good one as I particularly enjoy the second quote you posted. Having read a lot of historical fiction around the time when missionaries did a lot of work in Japan, you see a lot of these common reactions.

Apr 18, 2012, 6:09 pm

Great review, makes me want to rush out and buy this book. I love the first quote but have to agree with Lilisin, the second quote is distasteful but probably a true view of how missionaries of that time saw their purpose. Was this book written before or after Silence?

Apr 18, 2012, 11:48 pm

The Samurai == 1980
Silence == 1966

Apr 28, 2012, 4:20 am

I'm so excited. Audible has The Samurai. So I've used one of my credits and will be able to listen to the book while driving to work each day. I didn't recognise the narrator's name but I hope he does justice to Endo's novel.

May 1, 2012, 2:17 pm

Looking forward to reading this one next!

May 22, 2012, 2:01 am

Starting this today!!

May 23, 2012, 2:52 pm

As I read each of Endo's novels it has been like peeling the layers of an onion.....each novel adds cultural and historical depth to my understanding of the Japan and the history of its relationship with Catholicism. I have barely begun The Samurai, and already sense this new layer of knowledge.

May 23, 2012, 11:50 pm

>8 hemlokgang:. Yes, but The Samurai doesn't paint Christianity in as nice a light as his other novels. Or rather, it reveals a distinction between the dogma and institution, and the personal relationship with God/Jesus. Interesting book. Long slog though.

May 27, 2012, 4:48 am

It may have been a long book but on audio it didn't feel like it. David Holt did a great job of the narration. Endo's writing is perfect for audio. He develops each character so that they stand apart easily recognisable and as the plot develops the characters remain consistent. Each man's fate is tied to his personality/character traits. Velasco's pride and hubris are juxtaposed against the Japanese envoys' need to complete their mission no matter what the personal cost.
#1 I agree with all your comments about this novel, except that I didn't come to feel sorry for Velasco. I still intensely disliked him right to the very end.

I learnt a lot about this period in Japanese history. Before this book, I thought all samurai were high class warriors. The Samurai's depiction of the passing seasons in his village, the peasants he worked alongside in the fields and the difficulty of finding enough to eat during leaner periods left a vivid impression as I listened.

4 star read Highly recommended.

Aug 10, 2012, 2:09 pm

I didn't feel sorry for Velasco either; I mostly blame him for the fates of Roku and Nishi. I suppose, though, that the Council of Elders probably would have come up with a different excuse if they didn't have the conversions to fall back on.

Sep 2, 2012, 5:49 pm

This is the fourth novel by Shusaku Enhat do which I have read as part of a year long read of his works by a group of readers on

I have now started this review three times because I am not quite sure what to say. This story is another effort on Endo's part to illuminate the failure of Christianity to take hold in Japan. It is the story of a samurai who remains faithful to his mission to the death. It is the story of a priest who remains faithful to his mission to the death. It is the story of their disillusionment with their leaders. It is the story of the search for a way of life which will allow a person to live a life of integrity and honor and compassion. It is, in the end, a story of trying to maintain faith in the face of duplicity and abuse practiced by governing groups to obtain their own ends at all costs. Ultimately, I believe this is a story about each person's personal journey to find something to believe in beyond themselves. The writing is powerful and the imagery is outstanding. I do not think I have come across an author such as Endo before, who repeats the same theme so deliberately across very different story lines. He was, himself, a man obsessed with a theme.