Quote of the book: ‘Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.’

I listened to this book in two mammoth listens while on the road this Christmas and it kept me on edge for the relatively short listening time of 7hrs and 44mins. It had been on my reading list ever since the cover caught my eye in a Dubray’s bookshop last summer and with the impending release of a Martin Scorsese film, I badly wanted to get to it before it hit the cinema next month.

I loved this book for several reasons.

  1. The historical fiction element: The more books that I read from this genre, the more that I feel it is underrated. Books like these have the added attraction of being based on actual truth or real events that happened in the past. This makes the story more authentic and believable. The story in this book centres around Jesuit missionary priests sent to 17th century Japan. It is fantastic to read how the Western Christian culture clashes with the Japanese culture at a time when Japan had all but closed its borders to European ships.
  2. This book reminded me of the Joseph Conrad classic Heart Of Darkness: The story centres around two priests sent to find out what happened to the legendary figure of Fr. Ferrara. All we know is that Fr. Ferrara has dramatically apostatised his Christian beliefs and disappeared after twenty years of missionary work in Japan. His former pupils Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garrpe refuse to believe these apparent lies and set out to find their former mentor. It takes us a long time to finally meet Fr. Ferrara and this is similar to the tension-filled search for Colonel Kurtz in Heart Of Darkness.  Conrad’s book inspired the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now starring Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando. Will Scorsese use the material here to create another classic? Watch the trailer for Silence here.
  3. This book challenged me and my own beliefs: Christianity was outlawed in Japan in the 17th century and anyone caught practising it was punished severely. The Japanese quickly learned that killing missionaries made martyrs of them and so changed their approach. Instead of torturing their captives physically, they focused instead on spiritual and psychological destruction. Getting a priest to stand on an image of Christ or spit on a likeness of the Virgin Mary was a much more effective way of counteracting the spread of Christianity amongst the peasantry. As I listened to these tales of torture and mind games, I wondered what beliefs of my own would I be willing to suffer for and what beliefs would I renounce easily. I love books like this that make you think.
  4. This book has some unforgettable set pieces: The search for Fr. Ferrara, the similarities and parallels with the betrayal of Jesus, the water punishment, the pit, the Judas like figure of Kichijiro and the despicable character of Nagasaki magistrate Inoue who masterminds the dissolution of Christianity in Japan…without giving too much away this book has many characters and moments that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
  5. The strong theme of silence throughout the book: Many times in the book, the narrator questions why God sits back and does nothing while his worshippers suffer. In two key scenes, the ocean waves continue to roll and music continues to play while people are dying. God’s ‘silence’ makes it seems as if nothing has happened and normal life seems to keep on going despite these horrible events. It is this ‘silence’ that troubles Fr. Rodrigues and his beliefs the most as the novel builds to its conclusion.

‘Behind the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God …. the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish God remains with folded arms, silent.’

Would I recommend this book to a friend? 

Yes. I really enjoyed it and it can only enhance my experience of the upcoming film. This book is a great work of historical fiction and yet another great export from Japanese literature.

Afterthoughts

  • For all those film nerds out there, he is Martin Scorsese’s screenplay for his upcoming film available to download and read absolutely free!
  • In many ways, this book is the opposite to the excellent Brendan Gleeson film Calvary. In Calvary, Gleeson plays the role of an Irish priest surrounded by doubters and openly hostile members of the community. In Silence, the Jesuit priests are supported by a Christian community willing to risk death or even die for access to a priest and the sacraments. Watch the trailer for Calvary here.
  • I love this Biblical quote that is mentioned in the book:

    ‘All rivers run towards the sea, and yet the sea is not full.’