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on 20 May 2009
'Silence' by Endo is the most profound novel I have ever read.I took my time to come round to reading it because I thought the trials and tribulations of a few Portuguese missionaries in Tokugawa Japan would not be something that greatly interested me. However, the philosophical discussions that take place transcend the historical setting of the novel and challenges our fundamental beliefs and morality. It has been some time since I read this book and I am still haunted by it. It is one of those rare works that can change the way you think about life.
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VINE VOICEon 7 March 2007
SILENCE; Shusaku Endo. ISBN-10; 0720612861

This is a harrowing and testing story of a Portugese priest -missionary pushing his faith to the limits in 17th century Japan.

Japan at the time was purging itself of alien influences and determined to drive christianity out of it's islands.

Christians were subject to persecution and those interrogated by the authorities forced to renounce their faith.

The leading character, one Sebastian Rodrigues is out to find the truth behind the reports that his mentor, Ferreira had been catechized and forced to abandon his faith - recant.

From Rodrigues covert entry to the islands through his betrayal to his ultimate enlightenment - his faith - his belief - is severely tested - pushed to the limits.

He constantly asks why God remains silent through all the suffering, persecution and oppression only to realise that God had been and will always be his constant companion.

Endo (in transaltion) is a superb storyteller and writer often compared to Graham Greene - but to me his style and influence has stronger affiliations with two great authours of his previous generation - Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hardy.

Endo is one of my favoured authours and 'Silence' has to be acknowledged as one of the finest works of fiction of all time.
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on 13 October 2001
Father Sebastian Rodrigues and two other Portuguese missionary priests ignore the advice of their superiors and illicitly enter a hostile Japan.It is the early part of the 17th Century. Christianity is anathema in Japan. Anyone suspected of being a Christian is imprisoned and forced to trample on an image of Christ in order to avoid death. Those who refuse face a series of horrific tortures, one of which is 'the pit'. There they are hung upside down for days on end until they either apostatize, i.e. deny Christ, or die.Will Rodrigues have the courage to cling to his faith when faced by the cruel prosecutor, Inoue,who is the architect of some of the worst tortures? Rodrigues, and the reader, are faced with the question, 'Why does God, if he exists, remain silent when those who worship him are forced to suffer so much?' Is it right to preach a gospel which brings not only the hope of eternal life life to those who convert but unimaginable pain and trouble? This is an exciting and thought-provoking book. Its only flaw is the over-labouring of the parallels between the priest's suffering and that of Christ.
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on 12 April 2004
Silence is probably the best book I have ever read. I simply cannot think of anything else I have encountered that tops it. The story tells of Portuguese priest attempting to preach Christianity in Japan during a terrifying persecution.
Silence asks the question how can God remain silent while his servants are being tortured and killed? This theme runs through the book and by the penultimate chapter you think know how the story will end, an ending which is better than most books can manage. The tale then twists again and what happens at the very end is one of the most profound and disturbing conclusions of any book written on the Christian theme.
In a way the book is similar to Graham Greene's "The Power and the Glory" but Endo puts his characters through much more and as a result the central theme has more resonance. As much as I like "The Power and the Glory" it is inferior to Silence. Silence will make you sweat like a great horror novel and will leave its mark like the greatest literature.
This is possible one of the greatest books ever written with a Christian theme.
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on 5 October 2005
I first read this book in 1993. I was very deeply touched and have read it again from time to time since. The thinking behind the story is profound and the understanding of the Cross and Passion of Christ and the call to us to join in the vulnerability of Christ's own continuing mission to the world is very moving indeed.

As the pages fly by the unflinching, devastating exposure of everyman's own pride and incomplete understanding is sublime in its simplicity and gentleness.

How many ways can I laud this book and urge you to read it?

The early pages are a good read - a good yarn. The middle pages provocative, harrowing, hypnotic. The end pages leave one reeling before a mystery that rattles one's foundations.
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on 6 May 2014
This is a straightforward narrative which tells the story of the persecution of Roman Catholics (both Japanese and foreign priests) in the time of the establishment of the Shogunate which united Japan for the first time. Previous to that, for generations, there had been the time of the warring states.

The change is summarised in a Japanese saying –

(Oda) Nobunaga mixed the dough.
(Toyotomi) Hideyoshi baked the cake.
(Tokugawa) Ieyasu ate it.

Simplistically, Nobunaga began the process of unification, Hideyoshi consolidated it and Ieyasu took over on the death of Hideyoshi. The Tokugawa shogunate brought two centuries of peace and development by isolating the country from all outside interference. This lasted until the 1860s, at which time the Western powers forced Japan to open their ports to trade by bombarding Japanese cities and towns from the sea.

Bearing this in mind, it is important that “Silence” does not address the reasons for the persecution, especially after a long period during which the Shoguns had welcomed the Catholic priests and the trade they brought.

Set in 1643, “Silence” states that Christovao Ferreira, a Jesuit, is believed to have apostatised in Japan after being subjected to torture.

Three priests, Francisco Garrpe, Juan de Santa Maria and Sebastian Rodriguez, head for Japan from Lisbon to find out what happened to Ferreira, and to bring succour to Japanese Catholics. Rodriguez reports back in letters.

Santa Maria catches a debilitating dose of malaria, so only the other two carry on to Japan. They arrive, contact Catholic villages, baptise children and adults, hold masses, and generally teach and help their congregations.

Rodriguez pictures the face of Christ as being that of the figure in the painting in Borgo San Sepulcro, showing the figure of Christ with one foot on the sepulchre, and holding a crucifix in his right hand.

As the story progresses he begins to question his faith. He comes to realise that the God of the Japanese Catholics is not the God of the Catholic Church in Europe. Rodriguez’s God is silent in the presence of the persecution of his believers. He especially doubts when he is captured and learns of what the Japanese Catholics with him will be subjected to if he does not recant. He himself will not be harmed.

This must be the most dreadful torture, and must surely break the resolve of any decent person. Does it break Rodriguez? Read the book. I scored it at 8.5 as my contribution to discussion by the Round the World Book Group in Edinburgh.
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on 17 August 2005
One of the finest books I have ever read.
The language and writing is so tight and powerful, the story and inspiration so thought-provoking, even for a confirmed atheist.
Next to Mishima's Sea of Fertility in a league of 20C Japanese literature. High praise...
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on 4 July 2002
Endo's book is a beautifully written novel on the exploits of Catholic Priests in Japan during the 17th Century when Japan was in a state of Christian persecution and Priests and converts were executed for practicing their religion.
This shows the determination of Catholics in Japan to continue with their faith under extreme conditions and Endo portrays this story with a passion. The main characters are vividly depicted, travelling across Japan to give mass to the desperate converts, hiding in the day and practicing at night, putting their lives in the hands of others.
This is one of the classic books of Japanese Literature and if you have enjoyed other Japanese authors this is a must to have in your library.
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on 16 June 2012
Excellent from the outset as a thrilling story and as a meditation on a human conundrum - why is God silent and does a seeming betrayal of faith for faith constitute a weakness or an even greeter strength of character, to be reviled (as a Judas), for the very reason that not to play the part of Judas is an even greater betrayal. Endo gives no judgement in my opinion, but leaves us to think about the problem it poses for us. And then the question, ever present for any human being, how would I react or act in a given situation of moral crisis? Do I co-operate with an enemy? Do I follow orders? Do I act for myself preservation or act morally wrongly for the preservation of others. The villains are sympathetic characters. Inoue especially as the benevolent magistrate who doesn't harm physically the Christian priest Rodrigues, engages in dispute about the faith, yet allows Rodrigues to see that his presence in Japan is the reason for persecution and the random violence Inoue orders is in contrast for us and Rodrigues as they discuss with a smile. Read this. It will shock and move you.
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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.
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