24 April 2019

Notes on 'Silence'

Endō, Shūsaku. Silence. Translated by William Johnston, Picador Modern Classics, 2016.

1. There are several reasons I picked this book (I have to share because normally I go by gut feel plus the cover — this copy has a terrible movie tie-in cover): one, it's highly recommended by a Japanese trainee; two, it's been adapted for the big screen by Martin Scorsese; three, I'm extremely curious about Shūsaku Endō; and four, Christian faith baffles me.

2. The most compelling reason: the story is set in seventeenth-century Japan, where Christians and priests were hunted and executed by burning, drowning and other inhumane ordeals. A part of me may have expected torture porn.

3. Kidding. But seriously, I want to get in the mind of the faithful. What drives missionaries to spread the word — and here I realize the actual legwork the job entails. They travel places to preach, like pop stars on tour.

4. Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues is the novel's hero. I hate him. Such an arrogant fellow. He encapsulates everything I find deplorable about the religion. On top of the list is the viewpoint that suffering is glamorous:
And this sense of suffering shared softly eased his mind and heart more than the sweetest water. (106)

The more conscious he became of being watched by the Christians from behind the more he went on making himself a hero. (118)

A man had died. Yet the outside world went on as if nothing happened... On the day of my death, too, will the world go relentlessly on its way, indifferent just as now? After I am murdered, will the cicadas sing and the flies whirl their wings inducing sleep? Do I want to be as heroic as that? And yet, am I looking for the true, hidden martyrdom or just for a glorious death? Is it that I want to be honored, to be prayed to, to be called a saint? (128)

...he had tried to avoid any thought of people who were stronger than himself, people who had heroically endured torture [emphasis mine] and the pit. (163)
5. An exhibit of the aforementioned arrogance:
Yet one priest remaining in this country has the same significance as a single candle burning in the catacombs. So Garrpe and I vowed to one another that after our separation we should strive might and main to stay alive.

Anyhow, if my report now comes to an abrupt end (for all I know you may not even to date have received it), do not think we are necessarily dead. It is just that in this barren land we must leave one small spade to till the ground.... (64)
6. The entire chapter 7 had me on a fit. My marginalia read: The chapter where I so want the priest to suffer. Such arrogant man... God complex — God does nothing. He simply bathes in his vanity. I lost it in the latter part; I'm not sure now what I meant by the last couple of sentences about God, but I do know I was livid.

7. If all that sounded like I didn't enjoy the book, I had you fooled. Endō's writing is simple and straightforward. I may not have gained the philosophical insights I was hoping for, but I did feel the silence Rodrigues felt from his God.

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