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Endo, Shusaku 1923–

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Endo is a distinguished Japanese playwright and novelist. As a Catholic, Endo is thematically concerned with both the confrontation and the harmony between Oriental and Christian customs. (See also CLC, Vol. 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.)

John Mellors

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By way of demonstrating [the] difficulties of Christianity in Japan, Endo has written a novel [Silence] based on the persecution by the Japanese in the 17th century of missionaries from Italy and Portugal, and of their native converts. The apostate Ferreira maintains that Christianity is wholly alien to the Japanese mind, and unable to grow there to maturity. 'The sapling I brought quickly decayed to its roots in this swamp,' he says. But there is an underlying theme that is even more important—the 'silence' of the title, 'the silence of God … the feeling that while men raise their voices in anguish, God remains with folded arms, silent'….

Silence is an object-lesson to committed writers. Endo never sermonises. He has a strong, calm narrative style….

John Mellors, "Japanese Cross," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), Vol. 95, No. 2458, May 20, 1976, p. 654.∗

Louis Allen

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 447

Endo is likely to be struggling with ["the Japanese Graham Greene"] label for many years yet.

And, of course, the relation between literature and religion is one of his main themes….

But he is far more versatile than this suggests. He is one of Japan's major comic writers, for one thing, and, in When I Whistle, he explores yet another vein, a plain realism behind which lingers a discreet but clear symbolism….

Two threads run through the book. Ozu, an unsuccessful 'salary man', bumps into someone on the train who recognises him from the prewar past at Nada Middle School. Ozu cannot place him, but the incident jogs his memory, and his childhood at Nada and friendship with the grotesque and singular Flatfish unfold…. Both boys fall in love with one of the girls, Aiko….

Interwoven with this is the story of Ozu's son, Eiichi, whose life is Endo's unflattering version of postwar Japan. Eiichi is a house surgeon who despises his father—and his father's generation—as sentimentally humanist. He also loathes him for being a nonentity…. He uses people, a nurse, a doctor's daughter, a colleague, and does not hesitate to experiment with a new drug on the body of a terminal cancer patient.

By a more than Dickensian coincidence, the patient is Aiko…. (p. 530)

There is no Citadel ending, though. Aiko dies, but Eiichi flourishes…. Ozu, at the end of the book, makes a journey back to Nada, and the inevitable happens: the old train has been scrapped, Aiko's house has been bulldozed to make way for a block of flats, the river-bed the boys wandered along is filled in. But the nadir of disillusionment is the manipulation of the sea….

It is the price that Japan, more than most countries, has paid for keeping herself up to date. Yet the contrast will not work that simply. Ozu's nostalgia does not blind him to the reality of prewar Japan….

Even so, Endo implies, something carefree survived which is missing from the calculating, ambitious Japan of his son, Eiichi. There is, really, a poverty of choice here, and the gap into which the individual slots his own remembered happiness—or the possibility of his son's—is still narrow. No change depicted by Endo summons up the fierce rejection of a Mishima. Sadness is the keynote, and its symbol the changed Aiko: a delicate beauty, unhoused and brought to penury by war, and ultimately devoured by a disease which is merely...

(The entire section contains 1861 words.)

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