Silence is a well-crafted historical novel that dramatizes Christianity’s entrance into Japan and its near extinction in the early seventeenth century. During this time, the so-called hidden Christians were hunted down and forced to trample upon the fumie, a plaque symbolizing Christ, manufactured by their persecutors to facilitate their renunciation of their faith. Shsaku End tells roughly the first half of his story primarily through the correspondence of a young Portuguese seminarian, Sebastian Rodrigues, who journeys to Japan with two other students to learn why their former mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira, has renounced his faith in Christ. As the story unravels, End shifts to an omniscient narrator who reveals the slow and painful movement in Rodrigues, as he begins to understand the plight of Japanese Christians struggling to make this Western faith their own and eventually identifies with the outward apostasy his flock has performed.
A prologue begins the novel, explaining the circumstances of the Japanese missionaries in the early seventeenth century and the events that lead a group of Portuguese seminarians to investigate the reports about Ferreira. A renowned theologian and missionary, Ferreira had spent thirty years building the church in Japan when word arrived in Portugal that he had abandoned his faith. Three of his former students are baffled by this report and, wondering if it were not mere propaganda sent out by the Japanese or by their Dutch rivals, determine to discover why “their much admired teacher... faced with the possibility of a glorious martyrdom, has grovelled like a dog before the infidel.” Two years pass before the seminarians can gain approval from their superiors to embark finally upon a year’s journey to the shores of Japan.
They learn quickly the awful news of social upheaval, of the Shimabara revolt—which prohibits Portuguese ships from sailing to Japan—and they are forced to hire a Chinese vessel and the conniving, drunken Japanese guide, Kichijiro, a man Rodrigues immediately suspects is vacillating and unreliable, a shifty character not to be trusted. He later learns that Kichijiro is a “former Christian” who...
(The entire section is 901 words.)