SILENCE by Shusaku Endo


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Graham Greene readers will recognize the languor of Endo's pessimistic Catholicism in this tale of missionaries in 14th-century Japan. Most of the Portuguese Jesuits there have been killed, but reports filter back to Portugal that one missionary, Ferreira, is said to have saved his own life by apostasizing, stepping on the fumie--an image of Christ. Endo's protagonist, a priest named Sebastian Rodrigues, is one of a group of priests who mean to land secretly in Japan and try to find Ferreira. Through death and capture, the priests are split up. Only Rodrigues remains, hunted by the samurai of the magistrates and traveling at night through the hill towns of Nagasaki, where Christianity has previously taken some small root. But finally he's betrayed by a Judas-like figure, Kichijiro; and Rodrigues is then punished by an ordeal of faith: he's forced to bear witness to the screams of the torture deaths of local peasants, deaths he can prevent simply by apostasizing himself. Ferreira appears, trotted out by the magistrate, and urges Rodrigues to step on the fumie; wouldn't Christ Himself have apostasized to spare others from suffering and death? And even the Christ-image itself seems to stare up at Rodrigues, urging him to apostasize: ""Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here!"" The Greene approach, obviously, loud and clear--Rodrigues tramples; God stays silent. Halfway between a devotional fable and a lucid psychological study, Endo's book is greatly lightened by his Japanese economy of imagery, the quietness of his landscapes, and the directness of his narrative. Patience--and a disposition toward a heavily thematic ending--is required, but Endo is a writer we ought to know about.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1979
ISBN: 0800871863
Publisher: Taplinger