Silence by Shusaku Endo

Written by Gracie Cooper. Posted in Books

Written in 1966, Silence by Shusaku Endo is considered the writer’s supreme achievement. It received the Tanizaki Prize and is considered one of the best novels of the twentieth century.
The action of the novel is set approximately in the 1600s and it tells the story of the Portuguese missionary, Sebastiao Rodrigues, who decides to go to Japan with two other friends after receiving information that Cristovao Ferreira, their teacher – the one who made them want to spread God’s word – was forced to deny his religion, become a Buddhist and forced to marry a Japanese woman.

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To better understand the novel, we have to understand the atmosphere in Japan in the 17th century. The Japanese government feared that the Catholic power will affect its political situation in a negative way, and as a result, Japan’s most powerful leader promulgated anti-Christian edicts.

In times when choosing the religion you wanted to follow without any repercussions was not an option, Sebastiao has to survive the persecutions against Christians.

After being caught by the Japanese and accused of treachery, the only solution given to Sebastiao was to become a fumie, meaning that the government forced him to promote disloyalty towards God, otherwise he would have been killed. In this case, he has two options: he accepts their offer or he dies. Of course that the human instinct to keep his life prevails, and by the end of the novel, we will see a different Sebastiao Rodrigues. He will end up like his beloved teacher: to deny his own religion, forced to become a Buddhist, to get married and have children.

Silence by Shusaku Endo is a novel that shows that even the most dedicated persons can be persuaded to change their beliefs if their own life is threatened. Throughout the novel, we can see how Sebastiao changes: from a believer to an unstable person who starts questioning God after everything that happens to him.

The novel makes you wonder how would you react if you were in his position. Would you still continue to preach your religion, would you give up everything you believe, all the choices you have made in the past, would you give your life for religion? Or would you choose the same path as Sebastiao? It is a hard question, and by trying to answer it you can understand better which your priorities are, and whether you could go beyond your limits and put above everything, even your own life, the things you believe in.

Silence by Shusaku Endo is a novel worth reading, which will give you a lot of things to think about, but, most importantly: to whose silence does the author refer to?