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Silence by Shūsaku Endō

Silence (1969)

by Shūsaku Endō

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,026563,303 (4.04)2 / 268
  1. 30
    Night by Elie Wiesel (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Both books deal with a crisis of faith resulting from God's silence in the face of extreme suffering.
  2. 20
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A Novel by David Mitchell (Anonymous user)
  3. 10
    The Power and the Glory (Viking Critical Library) by Graham Greene (Anonymous user)
  4. 10
    Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell (soylentgreen23)
    soylentgreen23: Although not from the same period exactly, Endo's 'Silence' is another great book about the incursion into Japan of foreign culture, this time in the form of the Christian Church, and what happened in Japan when that religion was suddenly rejected by the ruling class.… (more)
  5. 00
    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (razorsoccam)
  6. 00
    L'Extrémité du monde: relation de saint François Xavier sur ses voyages et sur sa vie by René de Ceccatty (Dilara86)
    Dilara86: Déboires de la Compagnie de Jésus au Japon, du point de vue de François Xavier pour l'Extrémité du monde, et du point de vue d'un missionnaire du XVIIe, Sébastien Rodrigues, pour Silence.

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English (54)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All (56)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
When reading this book, the descriptive word that popped in my head was "beautiful". Not quite the best choice for a novel about religious persecution, torture and death in 17th Century Japan. Yet Mr. Endō tells a tale of suffering that is not gratuitous or hopeless. It evoked the concept of Christ suffering with His followers instead of simply rescuing or abandoning them. It's not a concept I've had to experience in real life, yet it rang true with what I've read from those who had. Anyway, this one has truly earned its status as a classic.
--J. ( )
  Hamburgerclan | Jun 18, 2017 |
I would just like to add my voice to those who were prompted to read this novel by seeing and indeed admiring the recent film adaptation by Martin Scorsese. Readers who come by the same path will not be particularly surprised by anything that transpires in this narrative, and that is a function of how faithful Scorsese and his co-writer Jay Cocks have been to the book. But nothing in cinema can fully replicate the sheer economy and lucidity of Endo's text. Its structure of movement from first-person narrator to omniscient third to marginal-character viewpoint in the last few pages permits a precision that is difficult to replicate cinematically. Without breaking out William Empson, to discuss levels precision of ambiguity is a tricky task but it seems to me that Endo has achieved ambiguities that amount to more than mere mannerisms. And indeed certain choices in the film now seem less puzzling now that I've read the text with which the film is in conversation. ( )
  jrcovey | Mar 18, 2017 |
I first heard about Shūsaku Endō’s “Silence” from one of my lecturers at college. I remember him enthusing about this novel and telling us (vaguely interested) students about its Japanese Catholic author and his doubts as to whether Christianity can ever take root in a society so different and distant from its Mediterranean/European origins. More than twenty years later, with the novel unexpectedly propelled into the limelight thanks to Scorsese’s movie adaptation, I have finally got down to reading it. I must say it was a harrowing and challenging experience, and one which certainly provided me with much food for thought.

The broad outline of the story, now familiar to many, can be easily summed up. In 1640, at the height of Shogunate's attempts to eradicate Christianity, three Portuguese Jesuits set forth to Japan, ostensibly to help keep the Christian flame alive . They also have a more personal mission – namely that of tracing the whereabouts of their erstwhile teacher and mentor Cristóvão Ferreira. Ferreira was once a pillar of the Japanese mission, but rumours have it that he has allegedly apostatized under torture. Of the three Jesuit fathers, only two eventually make it to Japan and the story is told through the eyes of one of them – a certain Sebastião Rodrigues. He experiences the dangerous life of Japanese Christians and, when he eventually gets caught (pretty soon, so this is not a spoiler...) we witness at first hand the agonising choices he has to make.

Another author would have made a great thriller or historical epic out of such a plot. Endo’s priorities however are different. He seems uninterested in crafting a gripping adventure story and the style he uses is remarkably simple, direct and unvirtuosic, although there are the occasional poetic passages. “Silence” is ultimately a religious novel – or, to be more exact, a theological one. But it stands firmly in the realm of literature rather than theology. The mark of many great novels (and Silence is one if them) is that they raise important questions... without necessarily venturing an answer.

The central theme (and the one which gives the novel its title) is, quite clearly, the mystery of God’s silence in the face of human suffering. An atheist would have a simple (if existentially challenging) reply to this query – God is not there. For a believer, even one strong in faith, it is no less difficult to provide a satisfactory solution– the Book of Job does try, without actually resolving the quandary, and it is significant that on the Cross, Jesus himself asks his Father why he has forsaken Him. That anguished cry echoes throughout Endō’s book.

Another, very obvious, theme is that which so impressed my college lecturer. Endō, a committed Catholic in Japan, seems very conscious of his “otherness”. Christianity can never survive in the “swamp of Japan”, affirms one of his characters and, if it does, it is Christianity but in name. But is it really true that Catholicism/Christianity is “alien” to the cultures of the Far East? Or does this religion have a kernel which is indeed, “catholic” in the sense of being universal?

These questions are undoubtedly interesting but they are hardly new. Did we really need Endō to point them out? Not really, although he does weave them very effectively into his novel. For me, the novel’s originality lies elsewhere. Throughout the book, Endō seems to draw a distinction between the simple faith of the Japanese villagers and the more sophisticated beliefs of the Jesuits. In some aspects, the former moves suspiciously close to idolatry – the Jesuits themselves are uncomfortable with the natives’ love of holy images and medals, and their enthusiastic devotion towards Mary. On the other hand, as one would expect, the Jesuit fathers are well-versed in the study of Scriptures and theology and their love of/for God is underpinned by a rigorous philosophical preparation. Yet, Endō seems to suggest – without actually passing judgment – that a faith which relies too much on reason is quicker to make compromises when put to the test. So, which faith is the stronger? Now, that’s a good question...

A final note about the translation. William Johnston (1924-2010), a friend of Endō, was himself a Jesuit and mystic theologian who lived and taught in Japan and had a lively interest in Eastern religions (and ecumenical issues) - this background made him eminently suited to the task of translating this novel. Indeed, although Johnson was no "professional" fiction writer his translation is self-effacing yet effective. ( )
1 vote JosephCamilleri | Mar 18, 2017 |
Earlier this week I read the novel “Silence”, by Shusako Endo, and yesterday I watched the eponymous newly-released movie based on this novel.

Endo’s 1966 novel tells the story of a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Sebastiao Rodrigues, who travels to Japan together with a fellow priest, to find out what happened to their mentor, Father Ferreira, with whom the church had lost contact. This is 17th century Japan, when Christianity is outlawed and Christians are being persecuted by the ruling Shogunate.

Guided by a drunkard and unreliable Japanese Christian, Rodrigues and his partner land on an island off the coast of Kyushu and find refuge in a remote village of hidden Japanese Christians. They witness the hardships these peasants need to endure, suffering torture and death and yet refusing to renounce their faith and apostatize. The Jesuit priests flee from the authorities but are eventually captured and tortured by the local inquisitor. Rodrigues meets Ferreira and finds out what happened to him.

“Silence” here refers to the silence of God. Rodrigues’ faith is tested when he witnesses, again and again, the unbelievable sufferings of these humble Japanese peasants. He cries out for God to intervene but is answered with silence. This silence shakes him to the core and leads to internal struggles and to interesting theological exchanges with his Japanese inquisitors.

The novel is very engaging and the movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a faithful representation of the novel. At almost 3 hours long, and given its content, it is not an easy movie to watch. But reading the novel first helped, because knowing the story ahead of time allowed me to focus on the acting and the filmography. At times I felt as if I was watching a painting rather than a movie.

Earlier this month I visited Kyushu for the first time, and witnessed firsthand the Christian legacy in Japan. I was introduced to this painful time in history through the memorial for the 26 martyrs on Nishizaka hill in Nagasaki, and the artifacts from the Shimabara Rebellion at the local castle (an event which triggered the brutal repression of Japanese Christians depicted in the novel). Endo’s book and Scorsese’s movie both resonated strongly with me after this visit. ( )
  ashergabbay | Feb 11, 2017 |
Searing epistolary novel of a Portuguese priest's spiritual torment during the days of persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan. ( )
  janerawoof | Feb 10, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shūsaku Endōprimary authorall editionscalculated
Johnston, WilliamPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, WilliamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steegers-Groeneveld, C.M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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News reached the Church in Rome.
"This country is a swamp. . . . Whenever you plant a sapling in this swamp the roots begin to rot; the leaves grow yellow and wither."

--Cristóvão Ferreira
"They twisted God to their own way of thinking in a way we can never imagine. . . . It is like a butterfly caught in a spider's web. At first it is certainly a butterfly, but the next day only the externals, the wings and the trunk, are those of a butterfly; it has lost its true reality and has become a skeleton. In Japan our God is just like that butterfly caught in the spider's web: only the exterior form of God remains, but it has already become a skeleton."
--Cristóvão Ferreira
It was not against the Lord of Chikugo and the Japanese that he had fought. Gradually he had come to realize that it was against his own faith that he had fought.
How many of our Christians, if only they had been born in another age from this persecution, would never have been confronted with the problem of apostasy or martyrdom but would have lived blessed lives of faith until the very hour of death.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0800871863, Paperback)

"Silence I regard as a masterpiece, a lucid and elegant drama." Irving Howe. -- The New York Times Review Of Books

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Sustained by dreams of glorious martyrdom, a seventeenth-century Portuguese missionary in Japan administers to the outlawed Christians until Japanese authorities capture him and force him to watch the torture of his followers, promising to stop if he will renounce Christ.… (more)

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