Tuesday, November 21, 2006

silence - the book report...

This is for those who said they would be interested in my book club book report on this book. The first part is the standard book club formula report. At the end you will find some thoughts I posted earlier. At the very end you will find 'further reading.'

Reporter: Xxxxxxx Xxxxx

Book Title: Silence

Author: Shusaku Endo

What did you like about this book? It is challenging. It forces one to confront one’s own faith and one’s responses to the world around us. It challenges us to see as it did Yancey who wrote his novel by the same title "The Jesus I Never Knew"

What did you not like about this book? It is challenging. It takes a while to get moving.

Do you know of other books by this author? I googled him and I could give you a list. But I have not read them.

I first read Silence in college for my ‘Themes in Literature’ class. I don’t remember anything about the discussion we had regarding the book. What I do remember is that it was my first real introduction to the word and concept of apostasy. I remember being struck by the grace in the book but not really understanding it as such. It haunted me for years...I kept it...then it was gone. Last year, I decided that I wanted to read it again and after searching concluded that I must have gotten rid of it in one of my organizing/cleaning sprees and so when my husband asked for Christmas gift ideas, it was on the list and lo and behold, I got it. I think he knew it mattered because occasionally, over the years, I would bring the book up.

I started reading it again and somewhere about twenty pages in, something else distracted me and it was put away. Then when I heard about the “Share a Good Book” campaign for book club, I decided that I wanted to suggest “Silence’ and realized I would have to finish reading it. So are you convinced? So far, all you know is that it stuck in my memory for a few minor details and that I got rid of it and then when I received a new copy, I could not finish it on the first try.

Trust me, it is worth the effort. It probably takes nearly half the book to get involved in it. The translator has a lengthy introduction that ought to be read and the Endo has his own prologue that sets the scene, which also ought to be read. Finally, the book starts and we still spend a vast amount of time laying the groundwork for the “swamp” of Japan.

Japan as a swamp that kills all that takes root in it is one of the principal themes in the book. The protagonist Sebastian Rodriguez is told that Japan is a swamp that bends and twists Christianity into something that is not real and while Japanese Christianity has the form of Christ it does not have the substance. At one point, someone tries to explain it to Rodriguez by saying it is like a butterfly that is caught by the spider after the spider has supped the butterfly still maintains the image of butterfly-ness but it is hollow and empty inside and is no longer a butterfly. However, because it maintains the outer image of Christianity, it is too late before anyone realizes that the roots are rotten and that it is really hollow and empty and by then the church is dead.

In reading some information on the net about Endo, I discovered that much of the premise of Japan as a swamp or a hollow butterfly holds true. The church was driven underground and not until the late nineteenth century did the Japanese allowed a church to be built in Nagasaki and then it was for tourists. At that time something remarkable happened:

Japanese Christians [came] streaming down from the hills; they were Kakure, or crypto-Christians, who had been meeting in secret for 240 years. Worship without the benefit of a Bible or book of liturgy had taken a toll, however: their faith had survived as a curious amalgam of Catholicism, Buddhism, animism, and Shintoism.

The Kakure had no remnant of belief in the Trinity, and over the years, the Latin words of the Mass had devolved into a kind of pidgin language: Ave Maria gratia plena dominus tecum benedicta had become Ame Maria karassa binno domisu terikobintsu, and no one had the slightest idea what these sounds meant. Believers revered the "closet god," bundles of cloth wrapped around Christian medallions and statues that were concealed in a closet disguised as a Buddhist shrine.

Around 30,000 of these Kakure Christians still worship today, and 80 house churches carry on the tradition of the "closet god." Roman Catholics have tried to embrace them and bring them back into the mainstream of faith, but the Kakure resist. "We have no interest in joining his church," said one of their leaders after a visit from Pope John Paul II; "We, and nobody else, are true Christians." (Phillip Yancey, Japan's Faithful Judas)

The same article reveals Endo’s idea as to why the church did not properly flourish. Endo believed that the reason the Japanese transformed Christianity is because it was introduced as the ‘Church Triumphant.’ According to Endo, it wasn’t until he visited Palestine that he grew to understand Christ in a way that was meaningful to the Japanese mindset:

Endo visited Palestine in order to research the life of Jesus, and while there, he made a transforming discovery: Jesus, too, knew rejection. More, Jesus' life was defined by rejection. His neighbors laughed at him, his family questioned his sanity, his closest friends betrayed him, and his fellow citizens traded his life for that of a common criminal. Throughout his ministry, Jesus purposely gravitated toward the poor and the rejected: he touched those with leprosy, dined with the unclean, forgave thieves, adulterers, and prostitutes.

This new insight into Jesus hit Endo with the force of revelation. From the faraway vantage point of Japan he had viewed Christianity as a triumphant, Constantinian faith. He had studied the Holy Roman Empire and the glittering Crusades, had admired photos of the grand cathedrals of Europe, had dreamed of living in a nation where one could be a Christian without disgrace. Now, as he studied the Bible, he saw that Christ himself had not avoided "dis-grace."

Jesus was the Suffering Servant, as depicted by Isaiah: "despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Phillip Yancey, Japan's Faithful Judas)

This was a Christ that the Japanese could relate to.
And this is the transformation of one man’s understanding of Christ, which we see in the book. In the beginning there the image of Christ beautiful and victorious, who in the mind of Rodriguez is his companion from youth. Yet from seminary foreword, Rodriguez questions Christ’s statement to Judas to “Go, what thou dost, do quickly.” By the end, Rodriguez sees Christ’s face “worn down and hollow with the constant trembling” and in that we see the Christ of compassion and mercy and understanding that draws us near.

There is much I would say, quotes I would discuss, images I would ramble on about, ideas that challenge, questions I would ask but I do not want to give it all away. I would only hope that this book would make it past the book club criteria and that I could lead the discussion. To be honest, it is perhaps too controversial (some people have considered it heretical) but I would like for it to be seriously considered as a book for book club.


BTW, for those who are studying Babylon right now there is this, which hit me solidly between the eyes and highlights how things work together when God works in our lives

At the point I am going to quote, a priest in Japan has been captured and is being held. The goal of his captors is his apostasy so that he will undermine the faith of the peasants. However, they do nothing to harm him.

The priest reflected on the days in the hut of Tomogi Mountain with Garrpe, and how they talked about the torture and whether they could endure it, if once it came their way. Of course, the only thing was to pray for God's grace; but at the time he had felt in his heart that he could fight until death. In his wanderings through the mountains, too, he had entertained the strong conviction that once captured; he would be subjected to physical torture. And he had felt it (was it a sign of his tense emotion?) that whatever torment came his way, he could clench his teeth and bear it.

But now his resolution had somehow weakened. Rising from the floor and shaking his head, he asked himself if his courage had begun to crumble. And was it because of the life he was now leading. The suddenly, from the depths of his heart, someone spoke to him: 'It is because your life hear is so pleasant.'

Since coming to Japan, it was practically only in this prison that he had had the chance to live the life of a priest...It was only since coming here that he had a chance to live with the people and to spend a great part of the day in prayer and modification without suffering the pangs of hunger.

Like sanding flowing through an hourglass, each day here passed quietly by. His feelings, formerly tense and taut like iron now gradually relaxed...Now that he had once tasted the tepid waters of peace and security, would he have the resolution again to wander through those mountains and conceal himself in a hut?"

This dovetails in with the Beth Moore study of Babylon I am doing at church early on she talks of Daniel's captivity and she says "Nothing is more dangerous than friendly captivity. Captivity never remains friendly. We, too, will lose our identity and integrity without resolve."

Interesting reading on the web:

Article by Philip Yancey: Yancey was inspired by this book to write his book “The Jesus I Never Knew” http://www.baobab.or.jp/~stranger/mypage/endo.htm

Article by a teacher, which included the following conclusion:
“Silence is an extraordinarily haunting novel. Although it is never a comfortable read, in its deceptive simplicity it is as stark and unyielding, as elegant and lean as the lines of a Japanese print. Without ever moralizing, it is an intensely moral book as well. And, like all great works of literature, it hovers in a middle ground, taut with expectation, caught in the tension between West and East, answer and question, logic and intuition, strength and weakness, hope and loss. It is, in short, a novel for most of us, most of the time, as we wend our way between heaven and earth with our longing souls and our feet of clay.”

Lots of spoilers in this one:


  1. Oh good, thanks for doing this. I'm going to come back later tonight when I can absorb it. What I've read looks great and makes me want the book. I've recently read that quote about friendly captivity, but I can't remember where.

  2. Thanks for the review, ME...I think I would like to read this book in January...it seems like a January Book to me...

  3. Just reading this review was fascinating...

  4. I finally really read this report this morning. I want to read it now. You did a great job reviewing it; very indepth but readable. I hope the book is as well-written as your report! :)

    It's funny ,isn't it, that in a world that is about power and beauty, it seems to most often be this worn down Jesus that we ultimately seek. Not the one in regal robes sitting on a throne; although they are the same Jesus.