I finished this book a couple of days ago. It's a fictionalized account of Christian priests around the 16th century trying to bring their faith to the island of Japan. The main character is a priest who initially has to hide for his protection (as Christianity is not looked up favorably by the government) but once he ventures out, he eventually is captured. During his capture, he struggles with the persecution of the Japanese who have converted and with the growing concern that the Christianity in Japan is not the version that the priests are trying to teach. He also repeatedly asks god about its silence - the following is a passage from the priest after witnessing a fellow priest being martyred:
A man has died. Yet the outside world went on as if nothing had happened. Could anything be more crazy? Was this martyrdom? Why are you silent? Here this one-eyed man has died - and for you. You ought to know. Why does this stillness continue? This noon-day stillness. The sound of the flies - this crazy thing, this cruel business. And you avert your face as though indifferent. This ... this I cannot bear.
I really enjoyed this book. As I am not a believer in any religion, this book illustrated that simply going to a country to "spread the faith" just doesn't work. As Endo put it, the "swamp of Japan" would not allow the Christian faith to take root in the country. Christians had to understand the culture that existed in the country and speak to the citizens from that perspective, and in Endo's story that wasn't what was going on. Endo even pushes this by making the claim that the Japanese Christians weren't even believing in the the Christian god; Japan had not let the faith take root and the citizens did not truly accept the god of that faith.
It was also very telling to see the priest struggle with his faith, why god would not intervene in any way, and whether his faith had any true weight. Seeing such struggles illustrated in a book are refreshing. When I was a Christian, I saw too many people start to struggle, but they were not encouraged to continue down that path. Oh, sure, everyone "wrestles with their faith" but if someone came out of that process not believing anymore, that wasn't the "right" result. Maybe if people were encouraged to follow what they uncover ... how things might be different in the world of religion.
I encourage you to read this book, believer or non-believer. Endo is an eloquent writer - you won't be disappointed.
* Posted at 12.09.2009 07:49:09 AM CST | Link *