Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `There are some men in the world who get upset by the persistent affection of an ugly woman.', March 27, 2012
This review is from: Silence (Paperback)
Some historical background: While it is possible that Christianity was known to the Japanese before the 16th century, it was the arrival of Francis Xavier in 1549 that led to thousands of conversions. The methods used by the Church to advance itself, combined with the quarrels between rival missionary groups contributed to Christianity being viewed as a threat by Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun and Christians were persecuted. In 1614, Christianity was banned in Japan. Persecution of Christians was followed by slaughter and execution, a practice that was soon preceded with torture, because martyrdom seemed to encourage rather than discourage. The Japanese government then started to demand that religious leaders apostatize, or face both their own physical torture and that of their followers. This, it was hoped, would stop the spread of Christianity within Japan.

Father Cristóvão Ferreira (c. 1580-1650) was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary who committed apostasy after being tortured in the anti-Christian purges of Japan. Born around 1580 in Portugal, Father Ferreira was a missionary in Japan from 1609 to 1633. In 1633, Father Ferreira was captured and committed apostasy after being tortured.

Against this background, the events of `Silence' take place. Reports of Father Ferreira's apostasy have come as a huge shock to the churches that have been sending the missionaries. The central character of the novel is Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a Portuguese Jesuit who has travelled to Japan in 1638 in order to find out what has happened to Father Ferreira. In Father Rodrigues's journey through the country his own beliefs are challenged as it seems that the Japanese have a completely different view of Christianity from his.

`Father I want you to think over two things this old man has told you. One is that the persistent affection of an ugly woman is an unbearable burden for a man; the other that a barren woman should not become a wife.'

`Silence' touches on questions of faith as Rodrigues dwells on the silence of God while he faces his own torture and witnesses the torture of others. It also touches on the cultural chasm between the Christian faith that Father Rodrigues believes in and the beliefs of the Japanese who seemed to be Christian. How can Father Rodrigues `save' people if they do not fully understand Christianity? And the role of Kichijiro who saves, and then betrays Father Rodrigues? He seems Judas-like, but whose interests is he really serving? When Christ does finally speak to Father Rodrigues, it is not the Christ he is familiar with from Portugal, Rome, Goa and Macau. This Christ is exhausted, and so is Father Rodrigues.

`He had come to this country to lay his life down for other men, but instead of that the Japanese were laying down their lives one by one for him. What was he to do?'

I found this a challenging and absorbing book to read, and while I can appreciate that some would find it shocking, I don't. In fact, it seems fitting to me that Father Rodrigues's certainty is replaced by uncertainty and silence. This is a novel which raises far more questions than it answers.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 27, 2012 11:15:53 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
to continue your last sentence: ...which is the usual state of the matter in subjects like these and obviously not meant as criticism of the book.
I knew this would work for you. You even used the same quote about the ugly woman. It is a picture that hits home.
H

Posted on Mar 28, 2012 3:51:16 AM PDT
Jenny, this doesn't appear to be a book for me. I know little about the historical backdrop and wouldn't even know where to start with asking questions. F

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 8:06:52 PM PDT
It's alwasy good when a review doesn't add a book to your list <smile>. This has a foreword which provides enough context to read as a work of historical fiction .. but I'll stop trying to tempt. J

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 8:18:22 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
Personally, I did not feel I needed to see it mainly as a historical novel, though knowing the context helps. The troubles of the main protagonist with his religion and his sense of mission and his sense of inadequacy and his doubts are quite enough to make this a great novel even if it were 'fiction' entirely or if it were placed in the Congo. Or Mexico. H

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 8:22:23 PM PDT
Or China, Australia or Papua New Guinea... True. But I liked seeing it as an historical novel: I find this period of Japanese history quite interesting. And I'm rarely sympathetic to the proselytisers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 8:23:21 PM PDT
That may be so, H. But I would still have to get through the historical context and its characters to move beyond to the level you describe. The context would probably hold me back. F

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2012 8:34:05 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
that's true; it is easier for me, as this is near my home turf. H

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2012 4:13:32 PM PDT
What is your home turf, Helmut?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2012 4:21:16 PM PDT
H. Schneider says:
You know the answer, BB, of course it is Asia. H
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