Friday, June 4, 2010

Silence by Shusaku Endo

If I have to pick between a Protestant novelist or a Catholic one, I almost always choose the latter. That probably sounds funny coming from a Methodist, but experience has shown that fiction written by Catholic authors manages to deal with theological issues while at the same time avoiding simplistic, pat answers. Shusako Endo’s Silence is no exception.

The story takes place in Japan in the 1600’s. Though all missionaries have been expelled, several priests enter the country secretly to give pastoral care to the Catholic converts. Father Sebastian Rodrigues has an additional motive for making the trip: One of his favorite seminary teachers had been in Japan as a missionary and was rumored to have denied the faith while under torture. Rodrigues' quest to discover the truth makes up the bulk of the novel's second half.

The book deals with the issues of suffering, persecution, forgiveness, and the efficacy of prayer. (The title refers to God’s seeming indifference to the suffering Christians’ prayers.) Powerful stuff! This is not a light read, nor does it have a nice, neat ending. But if you like to grapple with real-life questions in a well-written book, you’ll appreciate Silence.


Carol in Oregon said...

Hope! You take my breath away. That was an amazing review. It is short (one of my goals), succinct, personal and compelling.

And Silence has been on my list to read this year ever since I read it on Katherine Paterson's list of favorite books. Your review makes me want to stop the world (e.g. graduation I'm playing for today, garden which MUST be planted, ironing pile, yadda, yadda, yadda) and take the book off my shelf and read it straight through.

Without giving it much thought, I'm confident I agree with you about Catholic/Protestant novelists. But your first sentence is going to niggle at me, propel me to look through my shelves and wonder, and discuss this with my friends.

Oh, I am fired up! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Frances Tyrrell said...

I must read this one. I hadn't realized there were missionaries in Japan in the 1600's. I knew of their early presence in North America (thinking St. Jean de Brebeuf and fellow martyrs) but not of St. Francis Xavier and the missions to the east (never thought to look up St. F. X's history before, even with a local high school bearing his name). Thank you for making my reading list more "catholic"!

Carol in Oregon said...

Hope, you have done more to my thought life with this review than I could ever imagine.

I'm soon going to start Island of the World, another fine book (if the reviews can be trusted, and I think they can) by a Catholic writer.

Thanks for pointing me in good directions, thoughtwise and bookwise.