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Shūsaku Endō’s The Golden Country – More Reflections on Silence

The Golden Country: A Play About Christian Martyrs in Japan (1970) is a retelling of Endō’s earlier novel Silence (1966). (You can watch my three-part video review of Silence on YouTube, if you like.) Both stories follow the trials of Father Ferreira, a Portuguese missionary to Japan in the early 1600s. The character of Ferreira is based on real-life Cristóvão Ferreira, who, after 24 years of missionary work, renounced his faith under torture. He took on a Japanese name and continued to live in Japan as a writer, with evidence suggesting he helped his former persecutors interrogate other Christians. Endō takes the known historical facts and tries to envision what was going on in Ferreira’s mind in the days leading up to his decision.

This play takes the main themes of Silence and condenses them into play format. Is God silent during believers’ suffering? Are some people just born with more moral strength, and others born “weak”? Is Japan a “mudswamp”—an impossible landscape to grow the seeds of faith—or is it the “golden country,” a land full of promise? And is a picture of Christ just a picture, or does it hold more meaning?

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Thou Shalt Not Kill: Sachiko by Shūsaku Endō

I think Sachiko (1982, transl. 2020) has been my first 5-star novel of the year. In some ways, it doesn’t “deserve” it. Clocking in at 464 pages, it’s long and meandering, more “tell” than “show,” without the brilliant brevity of The Sea and Poison or the pithy structure of Silence. But just like those two novels, Sachiko will inspire and haunt me forever. The subject matter is, in my reading experience, completely unique, and the characters are heartfelt. The plot led me on a wave of emotions, with an ending that utterly astounded me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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What I'm Reading (and More): Quarantine Edition

Well, folks…we’re all hunkered down, now officially. I hope everyone is staying well. It’s also been a while since I did one of these posts, so it seemed like a good time. Feel free to share your own updates in the comments!

Reading

Silence

Finally read Silence by Shūsaku Endō! It is not a book one enjoys, but I did appreciate the challenge of deciphering the message (or losing my voice attempting to). You can watch the video review here.

TL;DR version: The book is gut-wrenching and, as I put it to another reader, “psychologically horrifying.” The writing style is masterful, from the use of silence as a motif to the mix of tenses/perspectives which create distance between the reader and the protagonist. I feel the surface message is unbiblical, but I also believe there is a second, more nuanced way to read it, where rather than view it strictly from Rodrigues’s eyes, you view the sequence of events holistically and see his flawed thinking. This gives the novel a level of depth that makes it worthwhile, especially for Christians.

What next?

I ought to read Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, because I have it on ebook from the library for eight days. However, Silence was so emotionally draining, I’m thinking I’ll take a break from fiction. I’ll probably read one of my exploration nonfiction books, like The Lost City of Z.

Watching

Gaslight

The other day I watched Gaslight (1944) with my family. This is an Ingrid Bergman film, about a young woman who marries a handsome stranger and bad things happen (ya don’t say?).

It is a verrryyy slow film. I couldn’t help wishing Alfred Hitchcock had directed it. On the other hand, it has a level of artistic restraint that I did appreciate and which Hitchcock never seems to be able to leverage. So, overall, it was an ok film. Charles Boyer’s character made me want to punch the screen, but Ingrid excels in this genre and made me stick it out. Also on the plus side, the plot reminded me of Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Fortunately (?), Gaslight is not nearly as bloodcurdling as that short story.

Listening

I started my personal blog back up, so have been journalling there about the shutdown, plus music recommendations and funny videos.

I’ll share this song now—“Vancouver Waves” by August and After, a calming song for times like this.

Listen on YouTube
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Five Short Stories by Shūsaku Endō

Since being haunted by The Sea and Poison a couple of years ago, I have been meaning to read more by this Japanese author. The Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Bellezza, is going on currently, and I discovered my library had several titles by him—so everything lined up this year to revisit Endō.

Five by Endo (2000) is a slim volume that contains the following:

  1. Unzen
  2. A Fifty-Year-Old Man
  3. Japanese in Warsaw
  4. The Box
  5. The Case of Isobe

These short stories are each rather depressing, but not without interest. Endō writes with refinement and restraint yet still manages to unsettle you, whether it is with the allusions to marital betrayal (implicit in “The Case of Isobe,” explicit in “Japanese in Warsaw”) or the matter-of-fact descriptions of brutality in “Unzen.” Three of the stories carry in them the motif of Christian experience in Japan, mainly the suffering. He excels at juxtaposing morality and immorality, and in many of these stories, it is the hero who precedes the anti-hero and haunts the latter with their sacrifice, which the anti-hero feels incapable of equalling.

I wouldn’t say these are “must-reads.” They are decent short stories that help you contemplate life in another era and place. They left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable…hardly the gut-punch of Flannery O’Connor, but existing in something of the same mental space.

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