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Left me cold
on 22 March 2017
Tracking two Christian missionaries out to spread Catholicism in 17th century closed-to-the-world, samurai-ruled Japan where converts to the Christian balm and psalm are getting tortured by the establishment by the thousands to apostatize forcing the whole religious movement to burrow into an underground society, this retelling of the epoch manages the broad strokes alright but reiterates the place of silence in the belief until tedium sets in. While I appreciated being shown the attraction of the destitute converting to the foreign religion as a reprieve from the spectacular inequality prevalent in the then Japan where the masses were reduced to toiling, enslaved animals, but beyond this I found little else to chew on.
I personally confess to not having much reservoir of sympathy for the deluded historical missionaries who marched into whole countries and forced conversion in communities that didn’t know any better. This meant that in the scenes involving the protagonist being counselled and censured by the Japanese authorities to foster some sensitivity to the foreign land and the people he wanted to preach in, I (almost perverse to book’s intentions) saw more reason in these pragmatic pleas by the authorities and the already-apostatised who at least weren’t spending most of their time wondering why in exchange for their Word they aren’t being feted till Kingdom come home. The whole book, which details a continuous grappling of one Believer confronted with eternal Silence could be seen as inspiring by people with a special faculty: that for unquestioning belief. I unfortunately didn’t sport this and the self-serious exposition with its on-the-nose conjuring of subtext really made the book feel longer than it is.
The Silence in the title is summoned and reminded of very explicitly as the exasperated Jesuit we are tracking is by turns aghast, disappointed and helpless at the continuing Silence of the Christ despite all the wholesale torture and butchery that His believers are enduring in full view.
The prose’s sparseness is at once simple but anaemic and is unable to salvage a fairly repetitive second half that oscillates on every page between the exasperated Father bemoaning the Lord’s Silence, contemplating the betrayal of a feeble-spined betrayer Kichijiro, finding parallels between his treatment and the Christ’s Passion and the authorities trying various modes of coercion to get the said Father to apostatize.
In all, I admired this book’s rigour in exploring the concept of silence in belief but wasn’t as enthralled or moved by the characters’ journeys as I wanted to. I am also rather curious if Scorcese and the recent film writers, just by their force of belief in this book have been able to infuse vigour into the source material for the screen.