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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SILENCE by Shusaku Endo

Originally published in 1966.
Translated by William Johnston.

Rodrigues is a Jesuit missionary from Portugal who has volunteered to travel to Japan. The leaders of Japan have recently turned against almost all foreign contact and have cracked down on Christianity. Stories have come back to the Vatican of Japanese Christians being brutally tortured and priests renouncing their faith. 

Rodrigues is determined to face this challenge. He is genuinely concerned about the believers who are left without a priest and he is also sure that he will not fail if his own faith is challenged. He and a partner make their way into Japan and set up in a small fishing village. The local Christians are thrilled but, soon enough, the priests are discovered and Rodrigues finds out that his presence threatens the lives of his new flock and that his own compassion can be used as a tool against his own faith and that even the strongest believer can be pushed too far...

Shusaku Endo (1923-1996)
This is an absorbing work of historical fiction. The reader sees most of the action from the perspective of Rodrigues, so there is not a lot of historical background about Japan and its internal politics. Mostly, this is a look at one man's struggle with his view of God and why God allows the persecution of the people that profess to believe in Him. This is the "silence" referred to in the title. Some readers have struggled with the Rodrigues' conclusions (in truth, Rodrigues does, as well) but I found his internal debate to be a strong one. 

I am giving this book a rating of 4 out of 5 stars only because of the ending. It was not that I did not disapproved of Rodrigues and how he finally resolved his problem, it's that it was done so quickly and I felt suddenly cut off from the ebb and flow of his thoughts. 

William Johnston translated this novel. As a Spanish teacher, I recognize how hard translation can be and Johnston deserves to be recognized for maintaining a consistent feel and flow to this book. His notes at the beginning of the book are also excellent.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Silence by Shusaku Endo.

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