Silence is not a novel with message.
It does not proclaim or preach in manner similar to the missionaries of its historic setting, but rather is a stirring novel of questions that in their nature are unanswerable - all the while remaining a simple story of conflicted and desperate faith.
When news reaches Father Sebastian Rodrigues that his mentor Christovao Ferreira, who was thought to be at work in 18th Century Japan, has denounced his faith and apostatised, Rodrigues travels to the secluded nation to discover the truth of this betrayal of faith. There, he discover a land turned hostile to the faith it had only recently come to embrace.
Fearing for his life, Rodrigues is kept hidden from the authorities as he works to fulfil his fatherly duties, acting as a servant of the Church for the remaining Christians whose faith is absolutely outlawed. There he sees the unopposed cruelty which the Japanese officials mete out to anyone found practicing Christianity. Using a test called the fumie, by which the accused are told to step on a bronze image of the Christ to openly renounce, or disprove, the accusations directed towards them, scores of hidden Christians are exposed.
In all of this, the torture and persecution witnessed by Father Rodrigues, there is no divine intervention. Despite pleadings and prayers, God remains silent. Rodrigues calls out in desperation: ‘Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent?’
Inevitably, the fumie is placed before him, but can Rodrigues find it in his spirit to faithful to a God who has met his suffering with silence?
Along with this central conceit, Shusaku Endo masterfully balances questions of the complex relationship between the figures of Judas and Christ, and whether betrayal is ever the justified or right course of action; the unsettling question of whether there is a place where Christianity doesn’t belong, whether any faith wholly alien to a nation’s inhabitants can be truly followed without a distortion or tainting of it; and even the idea that our conceits of glory and martyrdom have, in themselves, diluted Christianity by placing the human individual upon a platform formerly reserved for Christ.
Shusaku Endo’s historical epic is a brilliantly captivating novel rich with authentic voices, an open mind, and - unlike almost every other portrayal of Japan - paints a picture of a land which is sodden, barren, and unforgiving; populated by people whose beliefs are complex, messy, and in profound conflict between the native Buddhism and the newly imported Christianity.
Silence dares to bring to the fore the secret doubts and questions that we would prefer to comfortably avoid. Not so that we may feel overcome or dissuaded from faith, but that we would live in a manner that lowers our own self-made understanding - choosing not to proclaim a God we think we know, but rather, accepting the one we can never fully understand.
Shusaku Endo is considered one of the most important a writers to come out of Japan in the past century. As a Japanese Catholic, his works are known for exploring the conflicts between Endo’s faith and his culture. He has won many literary awards for his work, as well as being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
His most iconic work, Silence has been made into film by director Martin Scorsese - a devoted reader of Endo’s fiction - and stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver.
The film will be released in UK cinemas in January 2017.
The book is available to order now from Eden.
December 15th, 2016 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon