It was the famous “Silence“(沈黙・ちんもく)by Shusaku Endo(遠藤周作・えんどうしゅうさく)published during the 1960s. The (historical) story follows the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (whose name rarely appears) on his journey towards and through Japan during the time of intense persecution under the Bakufu (military rule of the shogun). This persecution lasted 260 years, and was so severe in its systematic cruelty that it surpassed even England’s successes against Catholicism.

Silence made me hate Japan for two related reasons. The first is Endo’s masterful presentation of Rodrigues’ sufferings as a priest in exile, watching the misery of his flock. The bakufu interrogators torment and murder the simple Christian villagers they find; not to break their faith, but to crush the faith of the captured priests. The villagers themselves are of no consequence, the sole application of their lives (in the eyes of the interrogators) is to be a tool wielded against the foreign priests. Several passages of the book are Rodrigues questioning the silence of God, asking Him why He permits these children of His to suffer endlessly at the hands of the wicked, first in their lives as ordinary Japanese peasants (already unimaginably harsher than the life of European peasants of the same time) and then moreso under the persecution of Christians.

This exploration of the sufferings of a priest, the manipulation of his love and self-sacrifice by fiends struck me to the core because I see in myself the same ideals and aspirations that sent Rodrigues to Japan. I am not a priest, and I have not given anything of myself that every good priest in the world has already given, but this is what I hope for my life and the thought that this could be so nefariously trampled sickens me.

The second reason is the simple fact that Japanese narratives are characteristically different to Western narratives in that good does not generally triumph over evil. Formed by the nihilistic philosophy of Buddhism, Japanese culture does not demand the ultimate victory of good and in fact tends to promote the expectation of suffering. Silence is truly a Japanese novel about a Westerner (and not the opposite) wherein good is slowly worn down, beaten down by evil… and ultimately defeated. I read on and on, through the chapters, the epilogue, and even the appendix hoping to find redemption but discovering none. This story left me gaping, grasping for the victory of good which I knew was necessary and right, but could not find. How could evil triumph, in any novel? How could evil triumph over a Catholic priest, especially in a novel written by a Catholic? It was disorienting, it was wrong.

But Endo was not just any Catholic novelist, he was a Japanese Catholic. And he made me hate Japan.

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