Monday, January 4, 2010
Shusaku Endo’s “Silence”
I’ve followed artist Makota Fujimara through his web site and blog. His art is stunning, and he has heaps of well-deserved accolades and accomplishments, including having served on the National Council on the Arts. He is also an author, a founding elder of his church in New York City, and the founder of the International Arts Movement (IAM).
IAM has a mission: to “gather artists and creative catalysts to wrestle with the deep questions of art, faith and humanity in order to inspire the creative community to engage the culture that is and create the world that ought to be.”
I became much more familiar with IAM when my friend L.L. Barkat told me that IAM was publishing her book of poems, InsideOut. I immersed myself in IAM’s web site, and found myself in a world of art, faith and culture, a world I felt immediately at home in. And I discovered that IAM has a Reader’s Guild, and it would be hosting book discussions on selected books each month of 2010, including works by Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, C.S. Lewis, Italo Calvino, Annie Dillard and – Shusaku Endo.
I was not familiar with Endo. OK, so I’m part cretin. But I learned. He’s considered one of Japan’s finest novelists, if not the finest, a member of the so-called “Third Generation” of writers who emerged in Japan after World War II. He was born in 1923 and died in 1996, and he was a lifelong Catholic. He wrote numerous novels, but his most famous work was Silence. And it is Silence that is the first book the IAM Readers Guild will be discussing.
These discussions are generally being hosted in small groups in different locations; there isn’t one listed for St. Louis but I was intrigued enough to buy the book and read it, and I’ll be “participating” by blog posts here for the Mondays in January. If this works, I’ll continue this for the succeeding months.
Silence is the story, based largely on historical events and people, of two Portuguese priests who slip into Japan in the 17th century during a time of persecution of Christians. They have determined to go to Japan to minister to the faithful and to learn if the stories of the apostasy of the leading missionary – and their former teacher in seminary – are true.
The story is told by one of the two priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues. And it is a story about faith and apostasy, how thin a line there is between the two, and whether one can remain true to faith even through apostasy. I found myself challenged on almost every page. Would I respond this way? Would I do this? Do I really understand what my faith is and isn’t? Is the difference that clear?
It’s an astonishing read.