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not much power or glory
on 2 August 2013
I just don't understand the majority of these reviews.
It's easy to see why this drew the approval of, and comparisons with, Graham Greene. The set-up is very similar to his The Power and the Glory: a fugitive priest in a land where Christians are barbarously persecuted (this time C16th Japan rather than C20th Mexico). He feels an onerous responsibility for the sufferings of his flock, and is trying to be faithful to his mission but wondering whether he is doing more harm than good. It's a weighty story, involving consideration of Japan's relationship with the west, Christianity's suitability for the country, and the Problem of Evil no less (the 'Silence' of the title is God's silence in the face of the persecution of Japanese Christians).
The trouble is - even allowing for the fact it's in translation - it's just not very well put together. There's a naivety about the style, especially the early chapters, like something from the C18th - Robinson Crusoe, or Gulliver's Travels. The construction is downright amateurish: it begins in a clumsy epistolary format, which is unceremoniously dumped in favour of a third-person narrative, and then near the end we get a random chunk of diary from a completely new character. It has none of the searing intensity of Greene's book, and the central character is nowhere near so well drawn; the grand themes, too, are addressed mostly in platitudes. In fact, I'm not sure that the most compelling part is not the translator's introduction, which sketches the historical context in shocking fashion.
Above all, where Greene's book had a strong underlying sense of faith, here there is hopelessness and despair (belying the historical fact that Christianity survived the persecution in Japan, and continued an underground existence until relations with the West were re-opened centuries later). You would not be surprised to learn that this had been written by an anti-Western Japanese, or perhaps an anti-religious Westerner; in fact, Endo was a Japanese Catholic. He must have been even more ambivalent about his faith than Greene was.
In short, if you haven't read The Power and the Glory, get that instead. If you have read it, this is likely to be a disappointment; but it's still worth a look.