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Group Reads - Fiction > Silence by Shusaku Endo (November 2016 Group Fiction Read)

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message 1: by Shirley (new)

Shirley | 4177 comments Here's where we can discuss our November choice for our group fiction read, Silence by Shūsaku Endō.

How are you all getting on with finding a copy of this? I am struggling as my library doesn't have it...I shall have to try online...


Erica | 867 comments I've got a copy out from my library and will start to read in the next day or so.


B the BookAddict (bthebookaddict) | 8315 comments Shirley, can't you use Inter-Library Loan?


message 4: by Shirley (new)

Shirley | 4177 comments B the BookAddict wrote: "Shirley, can't you use Inter-Library Loan?"

I think that's more expensive than buying online! Normally I can just order it in from the Lancashire libraries, but they don't have it and there is quite a charge for ordering from further afield. Ah well, I shall keep trying...


message 5: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ One of the Librarys in my system had it so I have a copy.


Susie | 179 comments I ended up using a credit from Audible, so I'll be listening...


Leslie | 15985 comments Shirley wrote: "B the BookAddict wrote: "Shirley, can't you use Inter-Library Loan?"

I think that's more expensive than buying online! Normally I can just order it in from the Lancashire libraries, but they don't..."


Sad to hear that it isn't easily available for you Shirley. I own a paperback copy I picked up in a library sale last year - only $1! Maybe used bookstores might be a place to look?


message 8: by Shirley (new)

Shirley | 4177 comments Leslie wrote: "Shirley wrote: "B the BookAddict wrote: "Shirley, can't you use Inter-Library Loan?"

I think that's more expensive than buying online! Normally I can just order it in from the Lancashire libraries..."


Yes, I'll take a look, thanks Leslie.


message 9: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie I am going to just listen to what you guys say before I decide on reading it....... I don't think it will work for me, but I could be all wrong!


Manny (virmarl) Shirley, we are also reading this novel over at Catholic Thought Book Club, almost in parallel.. This is a difficult novel, but I think if you're not Catholic it's even a more difficult hurdle. I can provide some orientation if people want. This is also my second read through the book, so I'm really on top of almost everything. Here's what I posted as background.

Let me provide some background here in my first post on the novel. Shūsaku Endō is a Japanese Catholic writer of fiction and literary criticism. Yes there are Catholics in Japan. His mother converted to Catholicism when Endō was a boy and it stuck with him. He went on to study in France and was very fond of the French Catholic writers. The CS Lewis Review has a fine article on Endō’s works and career. http://www.cslewisreview.org/2010/01/... I have not read any of his other novels but I have read a short story and plan to read another along with Silence.

While Endō’s family converted to Catholicism, there is actually an indigenous Catholic population that survived the persecutions and attempts to extirpate it from its shores. The city of Nagasaki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagasaki was built up from a small fishing village by 16th century Portuguese traders, and through that exchange and evangelization a large number of Japanese converted to Roman Catholicism. In time the Japanese rulers did not feel comfortable with allowing Christianity to flow—probably because the Portuguese and Spanish had a history of conquest, and the missionaries were Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian religious figures. Slowly the Japanese rulers discouraged and then persecuted Christians, and finally in 1638 Japan closed its doors entirely to the outside world. It’s doors would remain closed for nearly 250 years. Catholics cut off from Europe and mother church would live and secretly practice their faith, so that when the outside world reentered Japan, it found a community of Christians who still performed the Sacraments nearly as they had hundreds of years before. These “Hidden Christians” were called Kakure Kirishitan. Nagasaki is still the center of Catholicism in Japan.

Silence is an historical novel of that missionary and persecution period, and when I first read it I knew nothing of the history. I remember it taking me a little bit to get oriented. The Translator's Preface provides some history but it took a little bit for it to sink in—maybe a few chapters—which made me have to go back and restart. I had to do a good bit of searching of the history in order to fill in all the gaps. Here’s an orientation.

First digest these historical facts:

1543 Portugese fishing ships arrive in Japan.

1549 Francis Xavier arrives in Japan and starts proselytizing. In short order it is estimated that
100,000 were converted.

1565/1568 Emperor Ōgimachi bans Catholicism in Japan but dies shortly after.

1579 The height of missionary activity in Japan. Perhaps converts have reached 150,000. Jesuit
Alessandro Valignano is the Christian leader of the Evangelists, even establishing
seminaries in the country.

1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi unifies Japan and bans Christianity and banishes Christian
missionaries.

1597 (September 5th) 26 Christians martyred by crucifixion on the orders of Hideyoshi to
intimidate the Christians and prevent future conversions.

1598 Hideyoshi dies and the country’s unity breaks down.

1600 It is estimated there are 300,000 Christians in Japan.

1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu reunifies Japan and though dislikes Christianity tolerates it because of
his need for trade with Portugal and Spain. His dynasty rules Jaoan from 1600 to 1868.

1614 Tokugawa shogunate bans Catholicism and begins persecutions, and by mid century
demands the expulsion of all European missionaries and the execution of all converts.

1632 (September 10th) 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki known as the Great Genna
Martyrdom.

1633 Cristóvão Ferreira, the head Jesuit in Japan, is captured and forced to apostatize.

1637 The Shimabara Rebellion occurred, mostly a peasant led revolt in southern Japan over
poverty and taxation. Christians were suspected as instigators. Subsequently some 37,000
rebels and sympathizers were beheaded. Japan would close its doors to the outside world
for more than two hundred years. Christianity would survive underground completely cut
off from Europe and the papacy.

1643 Giuseppe Chiara, Italian Jesuit, lands on the Japanese island of Oshima in an effort to
Sacramentally minister to the indigenous Catholic population.

The central character of Silence, Sebastião Rodrigues, is based on the historical person of Giuseppe Chiara. It is with this background and this moment in time that the novel’s plot begins.

Second, there are a couple of other matters to know about the period that are relevant to the story.

Fumie: A icon or image of Jesus Christ or the Blessed Mother on which suspected Christians in Japan were forced to trample on to prove they were either not Christian or renounced (apostatize) their Christianity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fumi-e

Anazuri: The torture of the pit, where the prisoner is hung upside down submerged to about his knees in a foul pit and cut on his head so that he slowly bleeds to death drop by drop or until he recants. It typically took a few days for a person to die from this torture.

Finally there are a few other websites that can supplement your understanding of the history and persons of the era. The History of the Catholic Church in Japan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History... the martyrs of Japan here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyrs... and here. http://saintscatholic.blogspot.com/20... You can Google all historical figures I’ve listed and there should be a Wikipedia entry on all of them. I don’t think I need to provide links for those.


message 11: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Thanks, Manny. I guess if I were to read this book without previously reading what you have provided us here, I would be lost. Perhaps too little background is provided in the book's text?


message 12: by Pink (new)

Pink Manny wrote: "Shirley, we are also reading this novel over at Catholic Thought Book Club, almost in parallel.. This is a difficult novel, but I think if you're not Catholic it's even a more difficult hurdle. I c..."

Thanks for posting this. I know nothing about the book, so this is great background knowledge about the conditions of when it's set.


Erica | 867 comments Just finished the book. To be honest - it it wasn't a short 200 pages I would have dnf'd it. I couldn't connect to the story at all. I found it really boring and struggled to stay engaged. Really interested to hear what others think of it - from looking at the reviews it seems I'm in the minority.


message 14: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Thanks, Manny will be starting next week and I am sure this will be very helpful since I know little as well.


message 15: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Erica, don't feel totally alone; I have waited to read it b/c I fear it will not work for me. I appreciate hearing all different points of view.


Manny (virmarl) Look, this is a historical novel about a particular history you probably were not aware, an ancient culture you're probably not familiar with, a religion (Roman Catholicism) you may not have the nuances at your fingertips, and a modernist novel of shifting perspectives and existentialist themes. In short it's complicated. But it's a great novel and if you want to understand it, stick with it. I will help people along. I'll post some more tonight.


Erica | 867 comments I just think the themes and messages would have been more moving and thought-provoking if there was a stronger connection to the main character but he was so underdeveloped I didn't feel his trials and tribulations.


Manny (virmarl) This was my comment on the other book club pertaining to the Translator's Preface. Bear in mind, this was for a Catholic book club.

It occurs to me that some people may have different introductions. My edition, first published in 1980 by Taplinger Publishing Company, is the thirteenth printing and has a good size Preface written by the translator William Johnston. If people have picked up the current edition that highlights the movie, you may not have the Translator’s Preface. Does everyone’s edition have the Translator’s Preface?

What I’ve seen is that some editions list a Forward by Martin Scorsese. What I don’t know is if Scorsese’s Forward is in addition to the Translator’s Forward or in lieu of the Translator’s Forward. I don’t know what Scorsese’s Forward says, but if you’re missing the Translator’s Forward, then you’re missing some information.

The Translator’s Forward walks you through some of the history (which I’ve provided and gone beyond with my background post) but it also provides some context of Christianity in Endo’s life and in Japan. For instance there is this statement Endo made in an interview:

“I received baptism when I was a child ..... in other words, my Catholicism was a kind of readymade suit ..... I had to decide either to make this ready-made suit fit my body or get rid of it and find another suit that fitted ..... There were many times when I felt I wanted to get rid of my Catholicism, but I was finally unable to do so. It is not just that I did not throw it off, but that I was unable to throw it off. The reason for this must be that it had become a part of me after all. The fact that it had penetrated me so deeply in my youth was a sign, I thought, that it had, in part at least, become coextensive with me. Still, there was always that feeling in my heart that it was something borrowed, and I began to wonder what my real self was like. This I think is the 'mud swamp' Japanese in me. From the time I first began to write novels even to the present day, this confrontation of my Catholic self with the self that lies underneath has, like an idiot's constant refrain, echoed and reechoed in my work. I felt that I had to find some way to reconcile the two. “

Johnston, the translator, goes on to explain:

'The mud swamp Japanese in me'.....Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process. It is the spider's web that destroys the butterfly, leaving only the ugly skeleton.

Besides Johnston’s point of how Japan transforms ideologies (which culture doesn’t?) the point I think is noteworthy in Endo’s comment is that Catholicism felt “in my heart that it was something borrowed,” that there was a real self “underneath.” Well, that would be quite understandable, and I think it hints on understanding one of the themes in the novel. That is, how does a religion from the other side of the world, take root in a vastly foreign culture?

Johnston takes that theme and sets it beside another Shusaku Endo comment:

"For a long time I was attracted to a meaningless nihilism and when I finally came to realize the fearfulness of such a void I was struck once again with the grandeur of the Catholic Faith. This problem of the reconciliation of my Catholicism with my Japanese blood ... has taught me one thing: that is, that the Japanese must absorb Christianity without the support of a Christian tradition or history or legacy or sensibility. Even this attempt is the occasion of much resistance and anguish and pain, still it is impossible to counter by closing one's eyes to the difficulties. No doubt this is the peculiar cross that God has given to the Japanese."

One of the themes in the novel is whether Japan is ready to receive Christianity, and how would it do so? Was seventeenth century Japan ready for Christianity? Well it was amazing how many converted in such a short order. But obviously as will see in the end, the answer has to be no.

Johnston also has a third quote which I think projects Endo’s thoughts on the future of Japan and Christianity:

"But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony ..... If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts. Only Catholicism can present the full symphony. And unless there is in that symphony a part that corresponds to Japan's mud swamp, it cannot be a true religion. What exactly this part is-that is what I want to find out."

What I think Endo is saying there is that Japan will one day have the grace of accepting Christianity—when it is ready—because whatever worldview it relies on now, is not the fullness of theology and humanity. Only Catholicism can provide that. As a Catholic, I find that the highest honor. How wonderful.


message 19: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Mine had both.


Manny (virmarl) Diane S ☔ wrote: "Mine had both."

Oh good. I never found out if the new editions with the Scorsese introduction still had the translator's preface. Thank you.


message 21: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Manny wrote: "Johnston also has a third quote which I think projects Endo’s thoughts on the future of Japan and Christianity:

"But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a symphony ..... If I have trust in Catholicism, it is because I find in it much more possibility than in any other religion for presenting the full symphony of humanity. The other religions have almost no fullness; they have but solo parts."


This made me smile. I am sure others may not quite agree with this statement!

Manny wrote: "....and a modernist novel of shifting perspectives and existentialist themes."

Please explain why you feel this novel reflects existential themes. Please give me clear examples that are simple to understand. So often existentialism is vaguely described. Please explain this to me in a simple manner because I don't understand existentialism very well.

Thank you, Manny.


message 22: by Manny (last edited Oct 30, 2016 07:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Manny (virmarl) Chrissie wrote: "Manny wrote: "Johnston also has a third quote which I think projects Endo’s thoughts on the future of Japan and Christianity:

"But after all it seems to me that Catholicism is not a solo, but a sy..."

Chrissie, existentialism is vaguely defined because it is a very vague philosophic concept. I'm not an expert in philosophy but as a philosophic doctrine I would say it doesn't hold. But fiction writers used a number of elements from existentialism in their works. As you can see in the Translator's Preface, Endo was quoted as saying he was a nihilist at one time. Any post WWII writer who claims to have flirted with nihilism almost unquestionably explored Existentialism.

Placing a character in a solitary position of life and death where what holds in the balance is his identity as a human being is one of the frequent uses of existentialism in fiction. Without spoiling the climax, so I wont get into details now, but Rodrigues is placed in such a situation. But even in chapter four, when the three hostages are put before the inspector to assess whether they are Christians, that is a classic existential situation. In a way, I think Endo turns existentialism on its head at the climax. But we can talk about that when we get to it. I hope that helps.


Manny (virmarl) OK, here was my comment concerning the novel's Prologue. I think this will highlight a number of themes.

The Prologue formally starts the novel, and Endo starts with journeys in search of the Jesuit Christovao Ferreira, the leading evangelist in Japan, who if rumors are correct has apostatized. There is the 1635 journey from Rome of five priests led by a Father Rubino, and then the more central to the novel journey of 1637 of the three Portuguese Jesuits, Francisco Garpe, Juan de Santa Marta, and the protagonist of the novel, Sabastian Rodrigues. These three had studied under Ferreira and could not believe their mentor had not chosen “glorious martyrdom” over apostatizing. I don’t recall if the five Roman priests have any significance in the rest of the novel, but it’s interesting to note the different and contrasting rationales for their journeys. While the Jesuits embark to investigate the Ferreira matter, the Roman priests go “to carry on an underground missionary apostolate and to atone for the apostasy.” The priests go to atone while the Jesuits go for self-satisfaction. I think it’s subtle, but there is a sense of egotism in the motivations of the Jesuits.

In broad strokes Endo outlines the Jesuits’ journey in the Prologue as they go from Europe to the Canary Islands then around the Cape of Good Hope to Gao in India and finally to Macau in China. From Macau they will sneak into Japan. But Juan de Santa Marta prematurely dies and while both Garpa and Rodrigues both make it onto Japanese soil, Garpa is soon split off, and so we have the journey of Rodrigues in search of Ferreira. This journey constitutes the form of the novel, and it starkly—and I believe intentionally—recalls the form of the great early twentieth century novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_o... Heart of Darkness too has a journey of a European into a far different cultural world in search of, if not a spiritual leader, a man of incredible wisdom (“a very remarkable man”) who has deteriorated into depravity. Charles Marlow goes up the Congo and into the heart of the African jungle to find the dissolute Mr. Kutz. Sabastian Rodrigues goes into Japan to find the apostate Christovao Ferreira.

And Heart of Darkness itself was modeled on a prior great work, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno section of his Divine Comedy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno... In Dante’s Inferno, Dante the character travels into the heart of Hell, not to find a leader—though perhaps one could make the case he’s symbolically in search of his beloved Beatrice—but to find his way out of his midlife crises. At the end of their journeys Marlow and Dante gain wisdom, and so too will Rodrigues. It is interesting to note that in the Inferno hell is shaped in the form of a spiraling pit in which Satan is at the bottom. Rodrigues too will come to a pit, though a very different type of pit, at the climax of his journey.

But Endo doesn’t begin the Prologue with the journeys per se, but with Christovao Ferreira and his character before his apostasy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crist%C...

"News reached the Church in Rome. Christovao Ferreira, sent to Japan by the Society of Jesus in Portugal, after undergoing the torture of 'the pit' at Nagasaki had apostatized. An experienced missionary held in the highest respect, he had spent thirty-three years in Japan, had occupied the high position of provincial and had been a source of inspiration to priests and faithful alike.

He was a theologian, too, of considerable ability, and in the time of persecution he had secretly made his way into the Kamigata region to pursue his apostolic work. From here the letters he sent to Rome overflowed with a spirit of indomitable courage. It was unthinkable that such a man would betray the faith, however terrible the circumstances in which he was placed. In the Society of Jesus as well as the Church at large, people asked themselves if the whole thing were not just a fictitious report invented by the Dutch or the Japanese."

Endo needs to make clear up front what the goal of the journey is and why it is so startling that Ferreira has apostatized. He was a man “of indomitable courage.” The word courage and its antonym, cowardice, are important themes—or perhaps more accurately they are motifs—in the story. The Jesuit’s courage to face “glorious martyrdom” is constantly contrasted with drunkard Kichijiro’s cowardice. Apostatizing then is a failure to uphold one’s courage in the face of adversity, usually life risking adversity, and give into humiliating cowardice. Here is probably a good point to understand why the central characters are Jesuits. The Society of Jesus, started by St. Ignatius of Loyola, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatiu... are the soldiers of the religious orders, soldiers not in the sense of martial arts, but of spiritual warfare. Here are the opening two sentences of their rule:

"Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments."

Notice the military analogies: “soldier of God,” “serve,” “defense,” “propagate, ‘”retreat.” Their prayers are referred to as “exercises,” and their particular charism is to go out into hostile environment and preach and serve, knowing that they may be martyred. And so Jesuits were sent out across the world to bring the Good News to places that had never heard it, such as Japan. They were (and still are) tough men who were trained to go into inhospitable places. They are the Navy Seals of the religious orders. When I think of the Jesuit ethos, I’m reminded of the English Jesuit martyrs, who were trained on the Continent but inserted into anti-Catholic England to minister to the remaining Catholics. I remember reading that when a particular group of Jesuits were ordained prior to entering England, those attending the ordination fell to their knees because they knew they were in the midst of sure martyrs and therefore future saints. Many of the Jesuits expected martyrdom. And so we hear Rodrigues refer to it as “glorious martyrdom.”

We should also keep in mind that Ferreira and Rodrigues are based on actual historical figures. Any changes from the historical facts that Endo makes in the novel is probably for some significant reason. The details in the novel surrounding Ferreira seem to coincide with the historical facts. The only possible change is the length of time Ferreira has spent in Japan. In that opening paragraph of the Prologue I quoted above, it says he had been in Japan for thirty-three years. According to his Wikipedia entry, Ferreira had been sent to Asia in 1609, which would make the year the Narrator is speaking 1642. The novel is supposedly set in 1643, but I think that’s close enough for historical accuracy.

Now with Rodrigues, Endo makes a significant change. The character Rodrigues is based on is the person Giuseppe Chiara, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giusepp... an Italian Jesuit. What is the significance of switching the central character’s nationality from Italian to Portuguese? I can think of two. One, the Jesuit Order was started by Spaniards and Portuguese, and so I think the switch emphasizes the Jesuit ethos of spiritual toughness. I’m sure Italian Jesuits were just as tough, but Endo is trying to associate Rodrigues with the Order’s ideal. Second, and perhaps more important, making the central character Portuguese links in the colonization context of the back story. The Portuguese and Spaniards (and Dutch and English) were colonizers, while Italy not being unified until the nineteenth century, did not have colonies. The fear the Japanese rulers had of being colonized is accentuated with Rodrigues being Portuguese.

There were a couple of other interesting tidbits I picked up in the Prologue. One was repeated use of the number thirty-three. As I mentioned Ferreira had spent thirty-three years in Japan, and two pages later in Ferreira’s letter to Rome he mentions six priests “remaining in the mountains for thirty-three days.” That’s hardly a coincidence. Endo then mentions that Rodrigues was born in 1610, and if the novel is set in 1643 that would make him thirty-three years old when the events unfold. Thirty-three is Christ’s age at the time of His passion, so to give Rodrigues the same age is to interconnect them. In what way is Rodrigues Christ-like? That’s something to explore, but it could also be to highlight a contrast. In what way is Rodriguez not Christ-like might be as pertinent a question. As to the repeated use of thirty-three, I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to suggest. It does give the story a Christian aura.

The other tidbit comes at the end of the Prologue.

"Today we can read some of the letters of Sebastian Rodrigues in the library of the Portuguese 'Institute for the Historical Study of Foreign Lands'. The first of these begins at the time when he and his companions heard from Valignano about the situation in Japan."

This transitions into the novel’s first chapters which are epistles back home from Rodrigues. But the narrator says “Today we can read…” When is today? And who is “we”? Who is speaking there? This leads to the question of the novel’s narrative perspective, which is complicated and for another discussion.


message 24: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Manny wrote: "Endo was quoted as saying he was a nihilist at one time. Any post WWII writer who claims to have flirted with nihilism almost unquestionably explored Existentialism.

Placing a character in a solitary position of life and death where what holds in the balance is his identity as a human being is one of the frequent uses of existentialism in fiction."


Using one philosophy to define another in such vague terms drives me nuts.

Referring to your second sentence copied above, as I see it, such a situation could be applicable to umpteen novels!

I guess I will simply have to accept that the definition of Existentialism IS vague. I can't get a grip on it. I want to thank you, Manny, for explaining. I am struggling, but I very much appreciate your help!


message 25: by Manny (last edited Oct 31, 2016 04:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Manny (virmarl) Chrissie, such a situation could be applied to “an umpteen novels,” (LOL, I didn’t realize that umpteen is an actual word; it didn’t come up highlighted as misspelled) but thinking back to novels prior to the 20th century I can’t think of many or any that would apply. Perhaps Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear (perhaps that’s why they so resonate in 20th century, and I know they’re drama and not novels) can be seen as Existential-esk. Existentialism in fiction came about as a reaction to the circumstances of the two world wars and the Nazi concentration camps. I realize that the definition I gave above is incomplete. You caught me off guard with your question and needed to jog my mind. Let’s try this:

“Existentialism in fiction places a character in a solitary position of life and death where what holds in the balance is his identity as a human being within the context of a world that is irrational, and with the conclusion that man himself is irrational.”

The classic example would be Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial. The central character suddenly finds himself on trial for something he’s not told what it is. The placing of the character in this absurd situation becomes a metaphor for the “absurdity” of how we find ourselves in the context of history. You can see how this can lead to nihilism. If the world is irrational, then man himself is irrational, and our lives are meaningless. Bringing the character to a life and death situation where his identity is stripped is a way to remove the character from his historicity and his culture.

But here’s the fallacy of Existentialism: it assumes the context of our lives is absurd when in actuality the context is complex. It confuses complexity with irrationality. When you study the two world wars, the events that led to them were quite rational. The decisions of people that led to the war were limited in their perception, but within that perception were rational. The Nazi concentration camps were based on rational people making decisions—immoral rational decisions, I must emphasize that—from a limited and flawed mind set. The context of our lives—culture and history—is the summation of billions of people making rational decisions over the course of time and place. It seems absurd because we can’t visualize all those decisions. It’s too complex for the human mind to grasp.

Is Endo’s Silence is a work of Existentialism or of anti-Existential in that it takes the Existential premises and over turns them? I haven’t reached a personal conclusion on that yet. I read the novel five years ago, and it really stuck with me. In this re-read I’m seeing so much more and while on first read I could intuit the richness of the work, it’s in this second read I’m seeing how it all holds together. But I haven’t reached the ending yet in this second read. So I’m holding off from any philosophic conclusions.

Actually I need to thank you Chrissie, for making me really think through the Existentialism. I had a sort of Existential phase in my university youth (I’m 54 now) but have forgotten its rudiments.


message 26: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Manny wrote: "Chrissie, such a situation could be applied to “an umpteen novels,” (LOL, I didn’t realize that umpteen is an actual word; it didn’t come up highlighted as misspelled) but thinking back to novels prior to the 20th century I can’t think of many or any that would apply.

Let's try this: “Existentialism in fiction places a character in a solitary position of life and death where what holds in the balance is his identity as a human being within the context of a world that is irrational, and with the conclusion that man himself is irrational.”"


I wasn't considering only novels before the 1900s! Yeah, umpteen is in fact a word, simply meaning many.

Your second definition is more helpful to me - that our world and people too are irrational. You conclude, this "confuses complexity with irrationality." I do agree.

You have been very helpful. I will not ask more; I don't want to focus the discussion JUST on existentialism, I only brought it up b/c in a message you referred to it.

Again, thank you.


Manny (virmarl) Here's my comment at the other read for this book concerning the early chapters'

There’s a couple of more things I wanted to point out in these early chapters. Sorry for being long winded in this first week, but I think the opening parts of a book are important to understand since it sets up reading the rest. I shouldn’t be so intrusive in the other weeks.

In my first comment above, I highlighted that last paragraph in the prologue where the narrator says, “Today we can read…” I asked, when is today? And who is “we”? Who is speaking there?

This brings us to identifying the narrative perspective, or more commonly referred to as the point of view. No question, this is a modernist novel, and Endo using shifting perspective to achieve several objectives. Chapters one through four are clearly in the epistolary form, that is letters home written by Sabastian Rodrigues. Chapters five through nine, the point of view shifts to third person. Chapter ten is in the form of a diary, written by a character who I think doesn’t even show up in the novel before this. And the Epilogue is in the form of another diary of another character who also doesn’t show up before. And then we have that authorial intrusion in the Prologue, “Today we can read…” Discussing why the shifts and how they create a unified aesthetic is a discussion best held after completing the work. But I do want to point out these shifts so you can see it as you read.

Another element in these early chapters that should be noted is irony. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony Irony plays an important part of the ending. It’s subtly throughout the novel. Here are three examples from Chapter 1.

First, Rodrigues repeats in his letter back home about the openness of the Japanese to Christianity: “On this point Japan is undoubtedly, as Saint Francis Xavier said, 'the country in the Orient most suited to Christianity'.” (p. 16). Further then he expresses his joy of meeting his first Japanese. “Today I have wonderful news for you. Yesterday we at last succeeded in meeting a Japanese.” So who does this Japanese who is open to Christianity turn out to be?

"What am I to say about this man, this first Japanese I ever met in my life? Reeling from excess of alcohol, a drunken man staggered into the room. About twenty-eight or nine years of age, he was dressed in rags. His name was Kichijiro."

The first Japanese turns out to be a drunken slob, hardly an ideal Christian.

Second, while the three Jesuits are stuck in Macau waiting for a ship that will take them to Japan, they finally get a Junk, a Chinese sailing ship, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_(s... to take them.

"Anyhow, thanks to Father Valignano it looks as if we are going to get hold of a big junk. Yet how frail and passing are the plans of men! Today we got news that the ship is eaten up by white ants. And here it is terribly difficult to get hold of iron and pitch." (p. 18)

“Frail and passing the plans of men” ironically will foreshadow the Jesuit’s plans.

Third, after Father Valignano expresses his belief that the situation in Japan has changed and that their mission should be aborted. Juan de Santa Marta expresses his optimism:

"'And yet our secret mission could with God's help turn out successful,' said Juan de Santa Marta, blinking his eyes fervently. 'In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Some one must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out.' " (p. 13)

That’s how the chapter opens. But the chapter ends with the very person who expressed such optimism to die and not be able to make the trip at all.

"At last our departure is only five days away. We have absolutely no luggage to bring to Japan except our own hearts. We are preoccupied with spiritual preparation only. Alas, I feel no inclination to write about Santa Marta. God did not grant to our poor companion the joy of being restored to health. But everything that God does is for the best. No doubt God is secretly preparing the mission that some day will be his." (p. 22)

In all three cases the optimism is undercut with a harsh reality. These subtle situational ironies set a rhythm and tone within the novel and foreshadow the ironic ending.


Alannah Clarke (alannahclarke) | 11965 comments Mod
I managed to find this on audible so I can use one of my credits. Will listen to it after I listen to my current one.


message 29: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments Wow, well much of what has been on this thread I read in the forward by Martin Scorcese, the translators preface, and the authors prologue. Seems to me a book of historical fiction as so much time is taken to discuss what was occurring in historical records prior to actually getting into the story. It sounds like a great read for me.


message 30: by Gill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gill | 5720 comments Manny wrote: "Shirley, we are also reading this novel over at Catholic Thought Book Club, almost in parallel.. This is a difficult novel, but I think if you're not Catholic it's even a more difficult hurdle. I c..."

I'm about a quarter of the way through now. Thanks, Manny. Your information is very useful. I'm wondering now how we chose this to read. I know it was by voting! But it's very different from anything else we've chosen as a group.


message 31: by Gill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gill | 5720 comments I'm halfway through now. I like the fact that some of the story is told in letter form. I'm enjoying the description of the narrator's journey now he has separated from Garrpe.

I find the descriptions of the torture and punishment for the Japanese Christians very hard to stomach. The result is that I am speeding through those parts, which presumably is not what the author hopes for from his readers.


message 32: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments I just reached 30% and yes, the scenes are tough to take. I believe Greg offered it up. I had it on my TBR and was glad to take it on. It is considered a classic and I hope to get past this initial suffering. To know it is based on historical record yet fiction give a me pause. It is gripping reading so far.


Manny (virmarl) I think the fact that the Scorsese movie is coming out in December had something to do with the selection.


message 34: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Guy wrote: "I just reached 30% and yes, the scenes are tough to take. I believe Greg offered it up. I had it on my TBR and was glad to take it on. It is considered a classic and I hope to get past this initial..."

I suggested it because it's one of my offline friend's favorite books. I haven't started yet though - so much going on with moving and other extreme distractions. I still hope to read it by the end of the month Guy.


message 35: by Guy (last edited Nov 10, 2016 07:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments Manny wrote: "I think the fact that the Scorsese movie is coming out in December had something to do with the selection."

Yes, The movie has given it attention. Scorsese has said it was one of is favorite novels I believe. At any rate so far I am enjoying the book. It is very Interesting. The characters Sebastian Rodrigues and Kichijiro seem to be very central and complex. I am wondering if there is a intersect coming. It is just a feeling.


message 36: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments Greg wrote: "Guy wrote: "I just reached 30% and yes, the scenes are tough to take. I believe Greg offered it up. I had it on my TBR and was glad to take it on. It is considered a classic and I hope to get past ..."

I can relate to extreme distractions. Hope all gets a little more together for you...


message 37: by Gill (last edited Nov 11, 2016 01:35AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gill | 5720 comments I've finished the book now. I'm giving it 3.5 stars.

Some thoughts, no real spoilers:

I liked that it was based on a historical incident, and I enjoyed reading about life at that time in a country I know little about. I thought some of the descriptions of the countryside were lovely.

I'm not religious, so some of it felt irrelevant to me, but I am very interested in the role of Judas, whether to defend your beliefs at cost to other people etc etc, so I found that interesting.

I understand that Endo was strongly religious?? That might explain why it felt different to me from Graham Greene's novels; his work so often reflects the doubts he felt and had fought with throughout his life. The work of his it reminds me of is The Power and the Glory, which I much prefer.

The book it reminds me of most is Darkness at Noon, which raises many of the same issues, in relation to Soviet Russia.


message 38: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments Gill wrote: "I've finished the book now. I'm giving it 3.5 stars.

Some thoughts, no real spoilers:

I liked that it was based on a historical incident, and I enjoyed reading about life at that time in a countr..."


Gill, I just hit the halfway point and I am enjoying it. It is thought provoking. One thing, at least for me, is I keep sensing the direction of the story as it unfolds is very out front. I have not read any of the others you highlight. Thank You for the Information


Leslie | 15985 comments I just started so have avoided reading the comments so far. Not very far in but I am liking the style of the writing.


Manny (virmarl) Here's another long winded comment I had on the early chapters from the other book club discussion.

In an historical novel, there is a built potential for dramatic irony https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony#D... in that we the reader know how the history will turn out. The beginning of chapter three, Rodrigues writes back home expressing how critical he thinks he is.

"In this country June marks the beginning of the rainy season. I have been told that the rain falls continuously for more than a month. With the coming of the rain the officials will probably relax their vigilance, so I intend to make use of this opportunity to travel around the neighbourhood and search out the remaining Christians. I want to let them know as quickly as possible that they are not utterly abandoned and alone.

Never have I felt so deeply how meaningful is the life of a priest. These Japanese Christians are like a ship lost in a storm without a chart. I see them without a single priest or brother to encourage and console, gradually losing hope and wandering bewildered in the darkness."

Well, we know that for 250 years the indigenous Christians of Japan were abandoned and alone as per that last sentence in the first paragraph. And we also know that despite being abandoned and alone they did not lose hope and wander bewildered. When Christians came back to Japan it was remarkable how they found the rudiments of Christianity still relatively pristine. This is a point that must be strongly emphasized to understand the novel: despite incredible persecution and separation from mother church the Christian faith had taken root and survived 250 years until the harsh conditions had eased. The historicity shapes the novel.

The third chapter shows why Christianity survived all those years by dramatizing the peasant’s love for Christianity. Once they learn there are real priests in their village, the peasants overwhelm them for their sacramental needs. Here’s a description of the faith Rodrigues finds among the peasants.

"But now let me give you some more detailed information about these people of the village of Tomogi. They are poor farmers who eke out a living by cultivating potatoes and wheat in little fields. They have no ricefields. When you see how the land is cultivated right up into the middle of the mountain facing the sea, you are struck not so much by their indefatigable industry as by the cruelty of the life they have inherited. Yet the magistrate of Nagasaki exacts from them an exceedingly harsh revenue. I tell you the truth-for a long, long time these farmers have worked like horses and cattle; and like horses and cattle they have died. The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. For the first time they have met men who treated them like human beings. It was the human kindness and charity of the fathers that touched their hearts.

I have not yet met all the people of Tomogi. This is because from fear of the officials only two villagers can climb up to our little hut each night. Truth to tell in spite of myself! cannot help laughing when I hear the mumbling Portuguese and Latin words in the mouths of these ignorant peasants: 'Deus', 'Angelus', 'Beato' and so on. The sacrament of confession they call 'konshan'; heaven they call 'parais'; hell is 'inferno'. Not only are their names difficult to remember, but their faces all look the same-which c::mses not a little embarrassment. We confuse Ichizo with Seisukc, and we get Omatsu mixed up with another woman called Saki.

I have already told you something about Mokichi, so I would like now to say a few words about a couple of the other Christians. Ichizo is a man of about fifty who comes at night to our hut-and he always wears on his face an expression which makes you think he is angry. While attending Mass, and after it is over, he says not a word. In fact, however, he is not angry at all; this is just his natural expression. He is extraordinarily curious, and he scrutinizes carefully every movement and gesture of Garrpe and myself with his narrow, wrinkled eyes.

Omatsu, I'm told, is Ichizo's elder sister. Long ago she lost her husband and is now a widow. Twice she has come right up to our place with her niece, Sen, carrying on her back a basket with food for us. Like Ichizo, she too is extremely inquisitive and, together with her niece, scrutinizes Garrpe and me as we eat our meal. And what a meal! You couldn't imagine how wretched it is-a few fried potatoes and water. And while Garrpe and I gulp it down, the two women look on, laughing with evident satisfaction."

This chapter is actually lyrical in its dramatizing of love and faith. The peasants harbor the Jesuits in a hut up a mountain. They feed them, they nurture them, they love them, all at great risk to their lives. This particular passage may be the loveliest in the entire novel:

"The next event took place five days after the one I have recorded. It was late at night and we were secretly baptizing a baby that had been brought along by Omatsu and two men belonging to the Tossama. It was our first baptism since coming to Japan, and of course we had no candles nor music in our little hut—the only instrument for the ceremony was a broken little peasants' cup which we used for holy water. But it was more touching than
the liturgy of any cathedral to see that poor little hut with the baby crying and Omatsu soothing it while one of the men stood on guard outside. I thrilled with joy as I listened to the solemn voice of Garrpe as he recited the baptismal prayers. This is a happiness that only a missionary priest in a foreign land can relish. As the water flowed over its forehead the baby wrinkled its face and yelled aloud. Its head was tiny; its eyes were narrow; this was already a peasant face that would in time come to resemble that of Mokichi and Ichizo. This child also would grow up like its parents and grandparents to eke out a miserable existence face to face with the black sea in this cramped and desolate land; it, too, would live like a beast, and like a beast it would die. But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt—this is the realization that came home to me acutely at that time."

The peasant child baptized projects to the peasants 250 years of endurance. There is such joy there. Christ is there for the child and for the peasants. And men from other villages have heard about the priests and have come to urge them to meet their villagers.

"From these men we heard astonishing news. In the district known as Odomari, the villagers had succeeded in escaping the vigilance of the officials, and they were still Christians to a man. And not only Odomari. The neighbouring district and villages of Miyahara, Dozaki and Egami, although to outward appearances they were Buddhist, were in fact Christian—a fact which was barely kept hidden. For a long, long time they had been awaiting the day when we priests would once again come across the distant sea to help them and give them a blessing.

'Father, we have not been to Mass. We have not confessed our sins. We have only said our prayers.' It was the man with the blood-stained feet who spoke.

'Come quickly to our village. Father, we teach our little children their prayers. They are waiting for the day you will come.' The fellow with the yellow teeth, opening a mouth that yawned like an enormous cave, nodded approval. The fish oil burned and crackled. Garrpe and I could not refuse such a plea. We had been too cowardly until now. It was embarrassing to think of our weakness in comparison with the courage of these Japanese peasants who had slept in the mountains and lacerated their feet in order to come to us."

The “astonishing news” that the village was “still Christian to a man” escaping the government’s persecution again projects to the 250 years of secret endurance. The deep desire for Mass, for confession, for the sacraments is true faith. They say their prayers and teach their children the prayers, and so it will go on for generations. No other chapter will be so beautiful. The story line will turn after this, but the faith will go on.


Manny (virmarl) @ Chrissie or whoever is interested, regarding the existentialism theme.


Now that I’m almost finished this second read of this novel, it’s quite clear that Endo has Existentialism in mind. Notice this paragraph in Chapter 4. When Rodrigues and Garrpe split apart and go their own ways, left alone, Rodrigues has a moment of anxiety:

"Left all alone, I trembled from head to foot-it seemed that my body was outside the control of my will. Were I to say that this moment was not filled with dread I would be telling a lie. No matter how strong one's faith, physical fear can overwhelm one completely. When I was with Garrpe we could at least share our fear as one shares bread, breaking it in two; but now I was all alone in the black sea of the night and must take upon myself the cold and the darkness and everything else. (Have all the Japanese missionaries felt such terror? I wonder about them.) And then somehow or other the mouse-like face of Kichijiro, filled with terror, rose up in my imagination. Yes, that cowardly wretch who had trampled on the fumie at Nagasaki and fled. Were I an ordinary Christian, not a priest, would I have fled in the same way? What kept me going now might be my self respect and my priestly sense of duty." (p. 62)

Notice the diction: “trembled,” “dread,” physical fear overwhelming one’s faith, isolated in darkness and cold (which foreshadows the climax), and faced with a moment of courage or cowardice. This is the language of Søren Kierkegaard, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%B8... the father of existential philosophy. He wrote books titled Fear and Trembling https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_an... and The Concept of Anxiety, originally known as The Concept of Dread. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Con... I’m not going to claim anything more than superficial understanding of Existentialism, but if you read through all three Wikipedia quotes, you can intuit how Kierkegaard’s philosophy figures heavy here.

The key I think is to consider that Kierkegaard regards our existential decisions to be like that of Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Does one have faith enough to carry out such a command? Rodrigues at the climax is placed in a very similar situation. He is put into a situation where he must adhere to his faith or renounce his faith and allow the deaths of innocent peasants. I’m not knowledgeable enough on Kierkegaard and Existentialism to discern whether Endo is in sympathy with Kierkegaard or in opposition to Kierkegaard.


message 42: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Manny wrote: "@ Chrissie or whoever is interested, regarding the existentialism theme.."

I very much appreciate your thoughts on whether the author supports or does not support existentialism. If you can't figure it out I will certainly be at a loss.


message 43: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments I have finished and enjoyed Silence a good deal. Having read some of the comments here I cant pretend to wax Philosophical on Kierkegaard and Endo's connection. I will just say that this is a novel that gives great pause to the thought of an organized religion, traditions of them, and relationships with God and how they impact us and those around us. Some tough stuff in here. Ultimately I see this as a internal struggle with ones self and the belief system one has. I think this is a great work. Even us with faith have questions and this novel speaks to this very well. Even to the very end of it. I don't want to say more as to give away anything to anyone reading. I am very glad I read this. I may be looking into Endo's other works. Thanks to Greg for the Nomination and his friend who recommended it to him.


Manny (virmarl) For those reading the Shusaku Endo novel, Silence, here is a lengthy NY Times article in conversation with Martin Scorsese on the film.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/...

I guess three interesting notes that came out of the article that caught my eye: (1) Scorsese and the major actors who are catholic worked for basic pay, which means they worked for nearly nothing. They did it out of love. (2) Scorsese had entertained the priesthood as a young man and I think it said he went to a seminary. (3) The movie will be shown at the Vatican prior to being released.

I can't wait for it to come out.


Manny (virmarl) The trailer for Silence came out!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAc4X...

Happy Thanksgiving all. (Today is our American holiday of Thanksgiving, for those who are not American.)


message 46: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
Well I started very late - I've read nothing at all for what feels like ages (almost a month?). I was disappointed at the very beginning because the writing style at least in the translation felt a bit dull to me. Things have improved a bit since the priests arrived in Japan. I like it better in the priest's voice.

Gill, I do agree that the torture parts are hard to read - it's important and necessary but not easy to take. These sorts of things pagans did to Christians, then later Christians did to pagans, then Catholics did to Protestants and then Protestants did to Catholics, and then Protestant sects did to other Protestant sects - it's all part of history and very hard to wrap my head around.


message 47: by Greg (last edited Nov 26, 2016 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg | 7684 comments Mod
About half way through now, and I love it now - things have really taken off as the story began to be told in Sebastian's voice. The writing and the translation are exquisite in spots, for instance the (view spoiler). Disturbing of course but beautifully done. The images feel fresh and unique too. I love in chapter 4 the sound of waves breaking against the rocks "just like the sound of a black drum."

It's interesting how things become much more complex when he experiences them rather than just hearing about them. It isn't just theological and intellectual exercises anymore. Before he gets to Japan, he (view spoiler) in very simplistic ways. But once he's immersed, human compassion softens this rigidity. Before, it was all religious correctness and moral rectitude, but he sees these messy situations himself, his responses are more complex. For instance, when Mokichi asks him in chapter 4, (view spoiler), Sebastian's instinctive response is (view spoiler) I don't know if he even knows that this is the right response (or that we're even meant to think it's the right response) - that isn't the point; the point is that Sebastian is genuinely moved. All the Pharisees cared about was the letter of the Law; Jesus cared instead about people. Ironically, here as his faith is less certain, maybe Sebastian is a better priest? At least now, he sees people, and he understands their burdens rather than adding to them glibly.

Some of my favorite lines so far: "Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind. And then for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart."

Guy, I love some of the things you say in your message below, especially how it says a lot about "relationships with God and how they impact us and those around us" and your comment that "Even us with faith have questions and this novel speaks to this very well." I think you're absolutely right about both of these things. There is a lot of tough stuff in here, but so far, it's a beautiful book. I'm looking forward to the second half!


message 48: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam (bluegrasspam) | 675 comments I read this book in September. I came across the title via a Book Riot post on Japanese Authors other than Murakami. I didn't know, until I read the preface by Martin Scorcese, that a movie adaptation was coming out this year, which pushed me to read it sooner rather than later. I found the book to be very engaging and thought-provoking! I love historical fiction and this is a time frame and setting I am not familiar with. Even though I'm not religious, I could relate to the thought that many surely have - Why do terrible things happen and yet God remains silent? How do you stay faithful despite the atrocities going on around you? I also questioned why the Catholic Church sent missionaries to Japan, where they were banned, knowing how dangerous it was for the priests and the followers. Lots to think about wrt religion and moral choices! This is one of the few novels that I would consider re-reading. It's a very powerful book!


Leslie | 15985 comments Well, I have finally finished - I thought that it was very well written & thought-provoking. However, I am not very religious so overall it wasn't the book for me.

Having written that (and thought it for several weeks now), I will say that Endo made me think about some things (such as the relationship between Jesus & Judas) that I wouldn't normally have considered and in such a way that I still find myself pondering them at odd moments. I may end up increasing my rating due to this...

Re: movie adaptation
I am not sure how well the things that are to me most important would come across in a film. By this I mean Rodriguez's thoughts, particularly those about Christ's face, God's silence, and the his steeling himself to face torture. A movie can show the external action but this book is much more about the interior of a man's mind.


message 50: by Guy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Guy Austin | 267 comments Leslie wrote: "Well, I have finally finished - I thought that it was very well written & thought-provoking. However, I am not very religious so overall it wasn't the book for me.

Having written that (and though..."


Leslie - I agree - This will be a tough adaptation on screen. no wonder it was some decades in the making. I will be screening it on Friday the 9th. I am hoping they have done it justice. I feel it will be disappointing. so much internal thought and struggles in this.


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