Silence is the most well-known novel by Japanese writer Shūsaku Endō. As a Catholic, Endō tells the story of Portuguese missionaries, on a mission to Japan during the time of persecution. Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe have gone to Japan to find out if Japanese Christians still exist, to convert new believers, and to learn what has happened to Father Ferreira, a well-known priest who is said to have apostastized and has disappeared. Endō’s novel attacks questions of faith, trust, and manages to show a deep personal conflict in the life of Father Rodrigues. Read on for more (some spoilers):
What do I want to say? I myself do not quite understand. Only that today, when for the glory of God Mokichi and Ichizo moaned, suffered, and died, I cannot bear the monotonous sound of the dark sea gnawing at the shore. Behind the depressing silence of this sea, the silence of God…the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent.
This is a book of questioning. Though Endō is definitely not hopeless throughout, this is the picture of a man whose preconceptions erode as he spends more and more time in Japan, the swamp that suffocates any unapproved religion within its borders. The novel is written primarily from the viewpoint of Father Rodrigues, who is soon separated from his partner and faced with the danger of being a Christian in Japan alone. Layer by layer, his mission to Japan unravels. His guide, Kichijiro, is a weak and restless man who betrays him to the authorities, and apostastizes only to return pleading for mercy. Rodrigues is captured by the authorities, and eventually finds himself face to face with his own mentor, Father Ferreira, who urges him to trample on the fumie (a bronze picture of Christ) for the sake of love.
If a gardener were to uproot a Christian sapling from its Western soil in order to transplant it into Japan, would its branches still bear Christian fruit?
What is faith worth when you watch a man drown? “It is because of you that they suffer,” Inoue tells Rodrigues. Men will die if he does not deny his faith. Is it worth it? Is the death of Japanese martyrs worthy? “Life in this world is too painful for these Japanese peasants. Only by relying on the ‘temple of paradise’ have they been able to go on living. Such is the sadness which fills the song,” reflects Rodrigues. “I know what you will say: ‘Their death was not meaningless.'” — “And yet, why does this feeling of grief remain in my heart?”
There are no blacks and whites in Silence. Instead, Rodrigues wrestles with his hold on his faith, praying to God and remembering the face of Christ, always so present in his mind. But as God responds to him with a stony nothingness, Rodrigues wears down, despairing, until he is faced with the same question that Father Ferreira faced. Apostatize and live, or remain faithful and condemn even more to death? I’ll leave it for you to read yourself.
“Now you are going to perform the most painful act of love that has ever been performed” -Father Ferreira
Silence is a deeply haunting novel — have we not all felt the silence of God? Cast into an unwelcoming foreign land, and with no one to guide him or help him, Rodrigues faces the ultimate questions of belief and trust. Though the setting is bleak, this is a book of deep hope, set casually next to the pain, suffering and doubt that surround it. In the end, Endō has no clearcut answers for us, but leaves our conclusions murky and dark, like rain on the Japanese ocean. Father Rodrigues gives in to his hate – or is it his love? Shūsaku Endō does not give us the answer.
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