An extraordinary novel about the conflicts of faith. Endo examines personal faith, the silence of God, the dissonance of faith versus experience and what it means to be good. Of course, he also examines the cultural clash between Japanese Buddhism and 17thc Portuguese Christianity. And it's a bloody, gruesome, violent clash full of torture, cruelty, and martyrdom. So, what does it mean to be Christian in the face of such suffering? What is our responsibility to God, and to our fellow human beings?
The narrative lives in the intersection between belief and questioning. In the preface to the edition I have, Martin Scorsese writes: "It's this painful, paradoxical passage — from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion — that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully, and beautifully in SILENCE." He goes on to say that SILENCE is "the story of a man [Father Rodriguez] who learns —so painfully —that God's love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realize, and that He is always present . . . even in His silence."
It is also the narrative of Judas, that great and wretched betrayer. Here the spirit of Judas is inhabited by the cowardly and craven Kichijiro, although perhaps not only by him. That is for the reader to decide. Endo forces us to confront one of the most disturbing questions in Christianity. Who was Judas? What was Christ's response to Judas and what did it mean? As Scorsese points out, with the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, "these questions have become even more pressing."
The writing is more distanced — particularly in the first part of the novel, far less in the later sections — than might be comfortable for contemporary Western readers, by which I mean more summary than scene. However, if one perseveres, the rewards, at least for this reader, are significant.
I will be thinking about and re-reading this work for some time. There is so much to mine here, especially in the last section, where the philosophical and theological questions come into sharp, and agonizing relief.
5 out of 5 stars.... Is it possible to give more stars? I'd like to. Having said that, I'm not sure how, precisely, to review this marvel. It's a collection of stories quite unlike anything I've read before, and that's saying something, my friends, since I read a great deal.
Schein holds a Ph.D. in Ethics and teaching at the University of South Carolina. Her philosophical training serves her well here, as these stories are certainly philosophical. Peter S. Beagle said of her stories, "They are genuinely philosophical in a way which is very rare, frightening in a way far removed from scary, and, most impressively, they are often philosophically frightening — which is almost unheard of." Even he says he hasn't read anything remotely like them in a long time.
Yes, that long time... it brings to mind old tales, myths, sacred stories of ancient cultures, and those are precisely the tales Schein draws from. Her understanding of myth and folk tale is impressive, but so, too, is her understanding of the yearnings, fears, passions of the human (and at times non-human) heart.
Medicine men, monks, immortals, witches, seekers, wise talking animals, all make their appearances. In fact, the world Schein creates is one in which everything, everyone, from tree to priest, vibrate with life and the sacred power of story.
Truly, I feel these are stories with the power to transform. HIGHLY recommended.