The latest addition to my website is Shūsaku Endō‘s 沈黙 (Silence). This novel is set in the early seventeenth century, when Japan had forcibly clamped down on Christianity. The religion was forbidden and all practitioners, be they Japanese worshippers or European priests, had to apostatise or face brutal torture and death. The story tells of a Portuguese priest, Sebastião Rodrigues, who comes to Japan at that time, firstly to continue the work of assisting the Christian community but also because he has heard his former tutor has apostatised and he does not believe it. He has, not surprisingly, a very hard time of it in Japan and is aided by a quasi-Judas figure, a Japanese man called Kichijirō, who is very conflicted. He is an inveterate coward and apostatised more than once but, at the same time, wants to be a good Christian and help the priests. Rodrigues is also conflicted and cannot fully understand why God has chosen to remain silent when he and the Japanese Christians are being put through such terrible times. Endo raises some interesting questions, such as whether Christianity could take root in Japan and why those Japanese that did convert chose to do so. Above all, he tells an excellent story of two men struggling with their consciences in a very difficult world.
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Definitely one of the best works of J-Lit I’ve read (and well overdue for a reread). I don’t think Endo quite gets the publicity he deserves in comparison with some other Japanese writers.
I certainly enjoyed it but i don’t think that it is my favourite J-Lit novel by a long way