Saturday, May 2, 2009


I wrote the book review below just after I finished reading Silence. It was the end of a long and very fruitful Lent which culminated in the finishing of Father Neuhaus' great work, Death on a Friday Afternoon, our neighborhood fire and, most importantly, Holy Week leading up to the Easter Triduum. Bearing this in mind, this review seems a bit out of place now in the light of the Resurrection. And yet, in a recent discussion on the Via Dolorosa with my friend, Sharon*, she helped me to understand that 'sometimes when it seems that all around us are celebrating, this may not be true joy in the Lord.' Sharon referred me to a selection in Sister Faustina Kowalska's, Divine Mercy in My Soul, where that saint writes about the happiness of the crowd on Palm Sunday, 'But Jesus was very grave, and the Lord gave me to know how much He was suffering at the time. And at that moment, I saw nothing but only Jesus, whose heart was saturated with ingratitude.'

Here is my review:

Silence is a modern classic by Shusaku Endo. On the cover a crucified Jesus hangs from Japanese writing characters. My friend, Carol, recommended this book to me awhile back and I've had it sitting on my bookshelf. Then during Holy Week while I was finishing Fr. Neuhaus’ Death on a Friday Afternoon, he mentions the heroic struggles of the European missionaries who gave their all to travel around the world to share the Gospel message. Sometimes it just seems appropriate to leave off one book and seek out another, as if you are being led to it.

Silence tells a fictionalized story of what may have happened to two Portuguese priests who ventured onto mainland Japan during the persecution of the Christians around 1643. The story is told – brilliantly and poignantly – through the eyes of one Sebastian Rodrigues. The all important thing was to suffer and die a glorious martyr’s death. It was unthinkable that those who did not know Christ could devise any suffering, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or even spiritual which would lead the true believer to recant—but then this was before the days of Vietnam and the Japanese POW camps. Then it was believed no pain, deprivation, imprisonment, torture of oneself or one’s fellows—however prolonged, could ever be so bad it couldn’t be endured for love of God. It was simply a matter of one’s faith and will.

Silence is about the silence of God. I was 96 pages into the book before it occurred to me to keep track of all the times Shusaku Endo used the word, ‘silence’, ‘silent’ or ‘silently’, as well as words about sound. I had a feeling it was central to the story. From then until the end of the book (page 191) I counted fifty-one more times; I may have missed a few. It might have been a silly exercise—like something a high school English teacher would have you do—but I didn’t mind. And it focused my reading just when plot action came almost to a halt and most everything which was ‘happening’ was in the main character’s mind, or as experienced through his senses.

Silence is a powerful book. It seems to have as much to say about East meets West as it does about evangelization, martyrdom and the true voice of God. It is one Christian man’s search for the meaning of ‘the mud swamp Japanese in me’. ‘Japan is a mud swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process.’ (p. xv) Sound like another country we all know and love?

Silence will leave you different than it found you. 'Be still (silent?) and know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10)

Check out my books on Goodreads!

* Thank you Sharon!

No comments:

Post a Comment