Book · Book Review

Book Review: Silence by Shūsaku Endō

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“It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

Silence is a historical fiction novel written by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō published in 1966. Set in 17th century Japan, it follows the story of missionaries from Portugal and the suffering they have both experienced and witnessed in the hands of Japanese officials. The first part was written in the form of letter correspondence from the protagonist and later on in the third person narrative.

Christianity was not something openly embraced by Japanese in 1630s. In spite of this adversity, a number of missionaries from Portugal still come to Japan to strengthen the Christian faith among the believers. A Portuguese Jesuit named Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues and his companion Fr. Francisco Garrpe sailed to Japan to fulfill this mission and to confirm the news that their mentor, a Jesuit priest in Japan named Christovao Ferreira has apostatized.

Upon reaching Japan, they have witnessed how discreet Japanese Christians are in their faith and worshiping God. They had to hide any sign that could give them away as practicing Christians to government officials and civilians alike. Rodrigues witnessed  brutality and torture of all sorts done to groups of Christian peasants that were caught practicing the religion. These tortures have all led to their eventual deaths. He himself was starved and imprisoned, while his companion Garrpe died of drowning trying to save Christians that were wrapped in woven mats then thrown in to the ocean to die. In all these hardships, he had often wondered and questioned why is God silent? Why did he remained silent in all of this?

Rodrigues later met his mentor Ferreira who had confirmed he’d apostatized and is now living under a Japanese name. He convinced Rodrigues to apostatized so these peasants’ sufferings will end. It was also implicated by his captors that because of Rodrigues, people are suffering and dying, so he better renounce his faith, else, these sufferings will continue.

This book is a story of one’s faith and how will it endure physical torture and humiliation. When faced with life-threatening situation, how will your faith affect your actions? I liked how it showed stories of sacrifices that were truly inspiring and insights from Rodrigues that speaks to my heart, and more importantly, to me as a Christian. This book gave me a sense of admiration for one’s faith and its ability to endure hardship.

I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars rating for its “straight to the point” storytelling and thorough narrative. In summary, this book was not a “heavy” read for it conveys the message in one go. You won’t find conflicting events in the plot or in the build-up of characters, and so this was an easy read for me.

I liked how at the end of the book, Rodrigues had contemplated his anguish over God’s silence and have made him realized that God was not silent, He suffered with him. He is not alone for God was with him. It’s a message enough to inspire all of us Christians (and non-Christians), that in the midst of all our sufferings, God is always with us.

May we all find the courage we found in Rodrigues, to preach the word of God even if He may have been silent.

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