“Behind the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God …. the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.”
In 2016, Martin Scorsese’s film Silence was released. It was based on the book by eminent Japanese author Shusāku Endo, and was claimed by Scorsese to be his ‘passion project’ and akin to an obsession to him.
As the excellently made film rose in popularity, it did two things: made people aware of the novel behind it, and also baffled devout Christians everywhere on just what the movie was trying to say.
About the book:
Silence is an intense historical novel that follows two Catholic Portuguese missionaries into Edo era Japan. The novel opens with them being smuggled into the country in search of their colleague and mentor, Father Ferreira who, rumored to have apostatized, has not been heard from for an alarming period of time. Our two priests, Father Rodriguez and Father Garrpe intend to dispel these rumors (since they can’t accept that he could give up his faith) and martyr themselves while spreading the good word, but they eventually realize that their that the situation in Japan is not as morally black-and-white as the Church makes it out to be.
We are guided through the story from Roderiguez’ point of view, and he becomes the main protagonist for us. The author builds his characters up phenomenally, and there is some artful (though not subtle) juxtaposition with the biblical story of Jesus. And yes, it might be a good idea to read some part of the New Testament if you haven’t yet, since this novel is pretty heavy-handed with its Christian metaphors and runs a little like an allegory in parts.
Why it’s so important:
A couple of reasons. Firstly, everyone raves about Manga, and other Japanese authors are often left by the wayside. Shusāku Endo is often referred to as the Japanese Graham Greene – yes, he’s that good. If the only Japanese author you’ve heard of or read is Haruki Murakami, it may be time to diversify a little because there is a lot of good stuff out there you might be missing out on.
Secondly, Silence is a mind-blowingly complex novel about faith, religion, morality and the Self. You don’t need to be religious for it to have a deep impact on you. It’s chock full of some very poignant and pointed philosophical and emotional dilemmas that – if you try to understand the book at a deeper level – we all face in our daily lives.
Why you should read it:
In terms of genre, Silence is historical fiction, and it includes historical events that are not very well known by most people. We’re used to hearing about evangelical missions by the Catholic Church setting out to far-flung regions of the world gloriously dispensing salvation like wedding confetti. What we’re not used to hearing about was what happened when the leaders of some of those kingdoms started to wise up – especially in the case of Japan which, up until the Tokugawa shogunate (a little before the timeframe in which Silence is set) was politically divided by warring clans – and so, Christian missionaries weren’t thought of as dangerous – and likely not thought of at all. However, once the Tokugawas consolidated power, the missionaries found themselves in a much more unified kingdom – and government – and were quickly classified as a threat to said hard-won unity.