Thursday, 11 January 2018

Silence by Shusaku Endo Review


Set in the 17th century, a pair of Portuguese Catholic priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe, set off to the remote and mysterious island kingdom of Japan to spread Christianity and track down their mentor, Father Ferreira, who is rumoured to have committed apostasy (renounced his faith). But the Japanese government are not friendly to foreigners (this xenophobic attitude actually continues to this day!) and are particularly hostile to this new religion - is Ferreira simply dead and does a similar fate await Rodrigues and Garrpe? 

Naaah. I wasn’t impressed with this one. You know what this book needs? A story! Barely anything happens in this 300-page novel. The priests get to Japan and have to evade the authorities, they’re inevitably caught, and then it ends unmemorably. Way too much of the book is all about the Japanese authorities trying to get Rodrigues to apostatize himself by trampling on an image of Christ which gets dull fast. 

All it reminded me was how stupid religion is as a whole, whether it’s Christianity or Buddhism, the extraordinary cruelty it brings out in people and the total lack of critical thinking its followers exhibit. We’re right! No, we’re right! I’ll kill you for not believing in my imaginary friend! Etc. Endo lightly touches on the doubt Rodrigues feels from God’s silence (Eh? Eh? “Silence” - like the title? Eh? LITERARY...) despite his desperate prayers for help but doesn’t go any further with it. For a book ostensibly about spirituality, it’s not very deep! 

The book’s well-written and Endo convincingly brings this era to life, even providing a thoughtful perspective on the Japanese mentality when it came to their interpretation of Christianity - that they’re incapable of viewing Jesus as anything but a literal man, like the Buddha, rather than on a larger, more metaphorical level. 

But honestly, the real reason I finished this book? I just liked the edition itself as an object. It was well-designed, I liked the texture and smell of the pages, and, because it was easy to read and inoffensively dull, I just liked holding it while I read. Yeah - pretty damn superficial of me but that’s the truth! 

As it is, Shusaku Endo didn’t do enough to make me care about his characters or their plight and, as a result, Silence was a largely uninteresting and unexciting narrative about nothing worthwhile - a very poor and forgettable historical novel.

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