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Silence

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I volunteered to start a new thread for this book club selection, so here it is. I haven't had a chance to read anything other than some of the Translator's Preface, but if anyone else wants to start commenting, please feel free! I'll try to post some thoughts myself later. The first few chapters are fairly short, so I figured I'd combine the Prologue and the first chapter. If anyone would rather break the two chapters up though, it wouldn't matter to me.

Discuss!

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Edited by Ann D.

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I have found the story to be quite gripping so far. The Prologue shows the brutality of the persecution and the despearate situation of the remaining Christians.

I like the way the story is told from the perspective of one of the priests. The reader is really drawn into his internal struggles to be faithful to his call.

Kichijiro looks to be an intriguing character, one whose motives are not easy to discern. And the meditation by Sebastian Rodrigues on the face of Christ was quite profound.

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Yeah, the meditation on Christ's face that ends the first chapter is definitely the high point so far. I also find it interesting that the novel seems to be borrowing its form from a plot that I always associate with Conrad's Heart of Darkness -- a quest into the wilderness, so to speak, to "find out the truth about our teacher Ferreira." I would assume that Endo's journey will uncover truths much less bleak than Conrad's "Horror."

I've read the first thirty or forty pages, and I'm finding Silence a difficult novel to become engaged with. I don't know if it's the fault of the interpreter, or if Endo is just a plain-spoken writer, but so far the novel lacks, um, poetry. I was anticipating (or at least hoping for) language more surprising and insightful than: "Black junks floated on the water, scattered here and there like black smudges."

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I received a letter from the library yesterday which said:

The following book is being held until the 9th April

Endo, Shusaku: Silence

Am on my way there after work. Hurrah!

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I've read the first thirty or forty pages, and I'm finding Silence a difficult novel to become engaged with.  I don't know if it's the fault of the interpreter, or if Endo is just a plain-spoken writer, but so far the novel lacks, um, poetry.  I was anticipating (or at least hoping for) language more surprising and insightful than: "Black junks floated on the water, scattered here and there like black smudges."

That's my big difficulty so far. Philip Yancey's meditation on the novel alludes to this, too - I think somehow the "poetry" is lost in translation - but yeah, it's not an easy novel to become emotionally engaged in. I'm at around page 170 now, and it does get better.

One thing Endo does very effectively is to make the theme of silence pervasive throughout. Note the silence of the ocean, of the peasants, and ultimately how it relates explicitly to the silence of God. More on that later when we're dicussing other chapters, but it strikes me how silence becomes a looming character within the novel.

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Yeah, the meditation on Christ's face that ends the first chapter is definitely the high point so far.

Darren, funny you should mention that passage. It's one of the early high points for me as well, and I just happen to have used that very passage in a lecture last night.

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In addition to the face of Christ meditation, the other passage that strikes me in chapter 1 is Endo's comparison of Kichijiro to Christ's disciples. It's a suspense mechanism, in a way - since we know Christ's story ends well despite his disciples' weaknesses and betrayal, Endo seems to suggest, perhaps Kichijiro is cut from the cloth of Peter - or perhaps from Judas. Rodrigues has no idea, just as we have no idea ... yet he's got no choice but to trust the "terrible drunkard."

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I got home from the library yesterday only to realize I had three historical novels featuring priests and friars (Name of the Rose by Eco, A Thread of Grace by Russell, and Silence), which I found amusing smile.gif Anyway, on to Endo:

I did not read the translator's preface, preferring to wait until after I read the book. Like some of the other readers here, I miss the "poetry" that may have been lost in translation, but I have experienced this in other translated works. I find that I adapt to the writing style as I read, but I've only just finished the first chapter of Silence.

Endo has succeeded in intriguing me and drawing me in; I look forward to reading more. The only comment I have that has not been made before is that I feel a great deal of sympathy for Santa Marta; I sure hope we see him again!

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Sorry I haven't been able to post my thoughts. Unfortunately, between work and fighting a sinus infection I haven't had any time to read.

I agree with those who say it's been a bit hard to get into. I haven't even been able to read past the Prologue and it feels dry.

If anyone wants to start the next chapter or chapters please do--I won't have time in the next week or so to continue and I would hate for the discussion to lag because of my neglect. sad.gif

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So, I've been meaning to post the Chapter 2 discussion, and looking back over chapter 2, I realize .... I don't have a lot to say about it. I wonder if others are feeling the same way - that maybe the reason the progress of our discussion has been slow is that the first few chapters are pretty ... well, slow. I'm just not sure each one requires, and can support, it's own discussion.

By chapter five or six, it picks up considerably. So I'm wondering how you guys would feel about starting a Chapters 2-4 thread? Taking them together might give us more to talk about, and get the discussion rolling.

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I'm glad you brought this up, Mark. I'm somewhere in chapter 7, and I feel bad for not posting anything. But it's just as you said

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Sounds like a good idea to me.

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I've only just checked in with this post again. Like most people I've been reading far ahead into the book, mainly because the chapters are so short at the begining although I would disagree quite strongly with what others have said about not being much to discuss in them.

I'm actually quite at odds with what everyone has said about style so far. I find Endo's writing to be very lyrical and he paints atmosphere wonderfully. I think perhaps the "slowness" is an echo of the frustrations and lack of movement experienced by the two priests. However, there is a mass of depth to their meditations & similarly I think the first two chapters are filled to the brim with ideas explored in the later chapters.

I was hoping to finish the novel and revisit these chapters before making a thorough post of my thoughts. That's cos I'm impatient. Perhaps I should reread it (it is very short) & post something because I feel that there is a lot that could be explored - especially in the first chapter - and perhaps it just needs someone to back it up a bit more.

Other than that: I would highly recomend reading the translator's introduction (in my case the translator is William Johnston) as it provides a very cogent summary of the historical setting & the subsequent place of Christianity in Japan. I found it very useful in giving me a Japanese perspective on the events that are related to us from a Portuguese perspective and one of the curious things about the novel so far is that there is very little dialogue from the Japanese (until now - I've just hit the 5th chapter but won't go into detail for those that haven't read so far ahead).

As for the language - on a bit of a slant, but my previous awareness of the Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon and the introduction provided to the penguin edition really helped me to appreciate the difficulty in translating Japanese. It's not as simple as "differences when translated" as it is a different understanding of beauty in use of language, which can never be translated no matter how accurate the literal translation is.

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The lack of fire under this discussion is partly my fault - I haven't kept up on posting new chapter discussions due to some busy-ness the past few weeks. Looking over the Slacker film club thread, I'm thinking it makes sense to try to jump-start our Silence discussion by posing a few questions that get people thinking about themes and symbolism dominant throughout the book. Maybe Silence isn't the type of book that lends itself well to chapter-by-chapter breakdowns; maybe we'd be better off trying to discuss it as a whole. Just some random thoughts on my part, but I'll be posting soon (i.e. when I'm not at work, or when my boredom at work becomes too overwhelming to actually do any work) a series of questions and observations that will hopefully get us kick started.

Mark

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As promised, here are a few questions and observations about the book overall. I'll post a spoilers1.gif warning, just in case people haven't gotten to some of the stuff I'm talking about (that is, if anyone is still reading!). These are going to be as general as possible:

1. Is Christianity incompatible with some cultures? Specifically, is the "failure" of the missionaries in Japan because the culture of the day was a "rootless swamp," or because of religious oppression?

2. Rodrigues continually evokes the image of Christ's persecution, comparing himself to Christ, Kichijiro to Judas. How do those comparisons stack up?

3. By Chapter 5, the voice shifts from first-person narrative in the form of Rodrigues's letters, to third-person. How does it affect the novel's tone and the reader's emotional engagement?

4. Compassion vs. faith - are they incompatible? Or synonymous?

5. Idealism vs. realism - how does this play? Rodrigues vs. Garrpe, specifically.

Hope this doesn't sound too "study guide"-ish. These are some of the things that strike me about the novel, and I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts (if, ah, y'know, you guys are still reading .... wink.gif )

Mark

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sleeping015.gif

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I'd love to post some comments, but I've had absolutely no time lately, it's almost midnight now, and I have to be up early. I'll get back to this as soon as I can!

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I'll try a couple of these at least. I was working on an answer for the first question, but I'll have to think about it some more, so I'll go with:

2. Rodrigues continually evokes the image of Christ's persecution, comparing himself to Christ, Kichijiro to Judas. How do those comparisons stack up?

spoilers1.gif

I noticed the comparison of Kichijiro to Judas throughout the novel. But, I think that by the end of the book, as Rodrigues apostasized, he saw himself as Judas because he betrayed both Christ through his apostasy and Kichijiro in his failure to forgive him.

3. By Chapter 5, the voice shifts from first-person narrative in the form of Rodrigues's letters, to third-person. How does it affect the novel's tone and the reader's emotional engagement?

I noticed the point of view change, but it didn't bother me. I was still involved in the story. I think the first person point of view at the beginning shows the idealism of Rodrigues. But, the third person point of view could show Rodrigues dealing with the reality of the difficulty of his mission, and no longer seeing himself as the savior of Christianity in Japan, but just trying to survive and do what he can.

I'll have to think some more about the rest of the questions

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I'm sorry I haven't posted more here, and I'm not sure I really have anything all that worthwhile to add. But thanks, Mark, for posting these questions. I'll give a couple of them a shot.

spoilers1.gif

1. Is Christianity incompatible with some cultures? Specifically, is the "failure" of the missionaries in Japan because the culture of the day was a "rootless swamp," or because of religious oppression?

A complex question with no easy answer, I guess. I'm thinking of Kichijiro and of the numerous times we're told that he would have been a faithful Christian all along if only he had been left alone to live in a quiet village without oppression. So, thinking of that, I guess I'm inclined to blame the oppression. However, I'm currently reading the book of Acts, and there are editor's notes in my Bible pointing out how early Christianity tended to take root, grow, and spread even faster during times of religious persecution. And Silence certainly gives us examples of Japanese Christians who keep their faith up to the point of death.

2. Rodrigues continually evokes the image of Christ's persecution, comparing himself to Christ, Kichijiro to Judas. How do those comparisons stack up?

Was anyone else here slightly annoyed by Rodrigues's constant self-comparisons to Christ, especially toward the beginning of the book? They seemed to have a tone of such superiority, and they also seemed to warn that a fall was coming, sort of along the lines of Peter's claim that he would never leave Christ and was ready to die for him.

Also, I suppose I felt sympathy for Kichijiro, mainly because I know my own capacity for failure, and I have no idea how I would actually behave if placed in a life-threatening situation. I would hope to remain strong, but only God knows for sure. But I do view Kichijiro's apostasy in a different light than his turning over Rodrigues to the authorities for money. Wait a second. That's really troubling to me. I view his disloyalty to God as more forgivable than his disloyalty to Rodrigues?! Yikes. But again, I guess it's a case of his life being in danger. I almost see him as being put into a situation where he almost certainly will fail (trample or die) verses him actually working on his own volition to sell out Rodrigues, which also leads to numerous other Christians being persecuted. But goodness, that still troubles me!

Sorry. I think I just rambled there without actually saying much.

Edited by Diane

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Well, it's either feast or famine with me. I go for weeks reading barely a page, and now I've read the entire thing in just a few hours. Ah, the joys of vacation! smile.gif

Here are my first impressions: ( spoilers1.gif below).

The switching from first to third person POV is a style Endo uses in The Samurai as well, only it's much more pronounced in that book. In reverse, in that book he also touches on the theme mentioned in point one of Mark's post--that of whether or not Christianity can truly take root in Japan--while going into more depth in Silence.

From the ending, I felt that Rodrigues believes he never truly apostized (is that the right word?), but that Christ told him to step on the face. Did anyone else get that impression?

I'll address my feelings toward Kichijiro at another time. I see very strong parallels between my mindset and his, but am unable to express it just yet.

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Have we lost interest in this discussion? I'm sure most of us have finished the book by now--is there anything else anyone would like to add?

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Ok, so about 5 chapters from the end I got distracted by about 5 other books I'm also currently reading. I think this is partly because at times it felt so incredibly repetitive, which comes from his incarceration I think, that I lost interest. However, having finished it I realise that I was being daft and there is a mountain of stuff I must have missed in my zoning-outs. I've renewed it, and am hoping to give it another go (I still have creases on pages I thought were relevant passages). I think it deserves it. Also, I'll try to actually scribble down what I'm thinking as I go through the sometimes short chapters, which should be easier now that I know where it leads to.

I will say this for now, though, that what felt like the drudgery (and yet melodrama) of some passages was a wonderful lead up to (and recreation of conditions, I think) an exalting (though very quiet) ending. Also - did anyone else see the division that Endo drew between Christianity and the church at the end? Is his bone so much with Christianity not taking root in Japan or Catholicism? Does Rodrigues find Christianity by removing himself from the church? Or is this what the indue says to him all along - that it can never be a true version of Christianity, it gets changed into something else? (but then isn't this also true of Christianity across the world, that adapted and incorporated other religions as it spread to different cultures - still does, the black Jesus' in Latin America that incorporate centuries old... erm... 'black magic' religions into Christianity - and if so, where does that leave Christianity?)

Oh there are so many questions... Right. Back to page one. Oh and I'd also like to say that I'm really very excited by the summary of The Samurai in the back of my copy of Silence and will get to it soon I hope!

Edited by gigi

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Great thoughts, gigi.

it felt so incredibly repetitive, which comes from his incarceration I think, that I lost interest.  However, having finished it I realise that I was being daft and there is a mountain of stuff I must have missed in my zoning-outs. 

Do you mean the point until his incarceration felt repetitive, or from that point on? I thought the chapters leading up to his arrest felt like drudgery ... only the intrigue of Kichijiro really held my interest. The meditations on the "face of Christ" were beautiful, but yeah, after a while they felt repetitive, too. (going on memory, now)

I will say this for now, though, that what felt like the drudgery (and yet melodrama) of some passages was a wonderful lead up to (and recreation of conditions, I think) an exalting (though very quiet) ending. 

Exactly my feelings. I can't remember exactly what struck me so strongly, but there's a passage in the last chapter involving Kichijiro and his seemingly unlikely faith, and Rodrigues' quiet affirmation of his faith in Christ, that made up for the book's poetic weaknesses, IMO.

Also - did anyone else see the division that Endo drew between Christianity and the church at the end?  Is his bone so much with Christianity not taking root in Japan or Catholicism?  Does Rodrigues find Christianity by removing himself from the church? Or is this what the indue says to him all along - that it can never be a true version of Christianity, it gets changed into something else?

Hmm, well, that's the big question the book asks, isn't it? I'd suspect, from what I've read of Endo's life, that he had big problems with the Church and that Rodrigues' affirmation of faith at the end is akin to Endo's own affirmation. Inoue's cynical claim is that Christianity is irrelevant because it will always be culturally watered down - but Rodrigues, unlike his predecessor (can't recall the other priest's name) sees Chinese believers like Kichijiro practicing faith apart from the church, and culturally changed, but still rooted in a firm belief in Christ.

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Gigi, I think you'll really enjoy The Samurai. I prefer it over Silence, personally. I won't recommend it for the book club--I think two Endo books might be overdoing it--but if you do read it I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Re: the repetition; according to The Samurai's introduction it's a standard Japanese style of literature. It does seem to be boring to our Western sensibilities, but as you say, it begins to build and lead up to a wonderful ending. It does so very quietly, and still ends up quiet, but it's an intense quiet. I can really feel the tension and ackwardness between Rodrigues and his predecessor. I'm not sure if that really makes sense.

I still can't really put into words how I feel about Kichijiro. I relate to him so well that it makes me feel a little vulnerable. I waver so often in my faith, but I keep going back to it. I can't help it. It seems as though that's what happens with Kichijiro--he is too weak to be a martyr, and too weak to break away altogether. Again, not sure that makes sense.

This book is too esoteric for such a practical person as I am. smile.gif

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Ann - two things I just wanted to get out of the way:

i. you make it sound as if being a practical person is a bad thing and that it's incompatible with esotericism. Neither of which is true, which your reply demonstrates.

ii. The weakness of faith conundrum makes perfect sense and I think it is more common than you seem to allow, the norm in fact. What Endo seems to be saying, though, is that it is precisely the weakness that equals strength because it is in admitting this that you learn to depend on Christ. Actually, he goes further I think. By proxy he implies that faith that doesn't stumble isn't a true understanding of faith at all.

I appreciate your honesty about how you felt about Kichijiro, it is perhaps something I haven't admitted about myself and the lead character of another book club protagonist: Hazel Motes.

It would be interesting to, perhaps at a later date, approach a second novel by a chosen author. May be able to develop more in depth discussions on themes, styles, etc.

Edited by gigi

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