The Final Martyrs Essay - Critical Essays

The Final Martyrs

Best known in the West as the author of the novel SILENCE (1969), currently being filmed by Martin Scorsese, Shusaku Endo has, in this collection, reaffirmed his position as a master of the short story as well. Leisurely in narration and tone, Endo’s stories focus on his most common theme— specifically, the conflicts that arise from being a Catholic in a non-Christian country and generally the conflicts that arise from being a spiritual being in a fallen world. All eleven of these stories are moral examinations and exempla dealing with spiritual commitment, guilt, cowardice, bravery, and transcendence.

The title story is perhaps the best example of the exempla form. Set in the seventeenth century during the time of persecutions of early Japanese Christians, it centers on Kisuke, a giant of a man— clumsy, ineffectual, and easily frightened—who denies his Christianity for fear of being tortured. Unable to bear the Judas guilt of his actions, however, he returns and redeems himself.

Several of the stories are autobiographical in that the narrator is a novelist like Endo himself who ruminates on the meaning of his observations and experiences and who, also like Endo, tries to face increasing age and impending death with some grace. Although stories such as “The Last Supper” and “The Box” deal with Christian themes of forgiveness and salvation, they do not do so in an overtly didactic way; rather, they center on ordinary men caught in the extraordinary world of moral uncertainty. Shusaku Endo’s examination of the conflicts that arise from being caught between two different cultures is of particular relevance to contemporary readers. THE FINAL MARTYRS is a good place to begin to know his work.

Sources for Further Study

America. CLXXI, November 19, 1994, p. 28.

Christianity Today. XXXVIII, October 3, 1994, p. 44.

Far Eastern Economic Review. CLVII, January 27, 1994, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews. LXII, July 1, 1994, p. 865.

Library Journal. CXIX, September 1, 1994, p. 217.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 18, 1994, p. 13.

National Catholic Reporter. XXXI, November 18, 1994, p. 23.

New Statesman and Society. VI, April 30, 1993, p. 44.

The Observer. August 29, 1994, p. 53.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, August 15, 1994, p. 88.