We've gone from a contemporary London hotel in last month's book club to seventeenth century Japan for this month. Silence by Shusaku Endo is the author's most highly acclaimed work and has been called one of the twentieth century's finest novels. As empathetic as it is powerful, it is an astonishing exploration of faith and suffering and an award-winning classic.
It is 1640 and Father Sebastian Rodrigues, an idealistic Jesuit priest, sets sale for Japan determined to help the brutally oppressed Christians there. He is also desperate to discover the truth about his former mentor, rumoured to have renounced his faith under torture. Rodrigues cannot believe the stories about a man he so revered, but as his journey takes him deeper into Japan and then into the hands of those who would crush his faith, he finds himself forced to make an impossible choice: whether to abandon his flock or his God.
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Reading group questions for Silence by Shusaku Endo, compiled by Raphael Dalzell.
1. What was Endo’s purpose in making this a piece of historical fiction? How might it be relevant to an experience of the modern world?
2. What do you think is significant about the title Silence? What forms of silence might this refer to, and how are they present in the novel?
3. The novel is rich in religious metaphors and imagery. What examples of these interested you the most, and why?
4. Shusaku Endo belonged to the Third Generation, a group of Japanese writers who refused to adopt the abstract, experimental and politicised style of post-war writers. That said, do you feel there is any discernible political message in this text?
5. What were your feelings towards Kichijiro? Did they change at all as the novel progressed?
6. Speaking of his time spent in France, Endo remarked that ‘the long tradition of Christianity – its smells, customs, feelings, etc. – had taken a deep root in the hills, fields, and the Earth’. How might Sebastian’s description of the Japanese landscape and people reflect his view of the country’s religious state?
7. The novel features constant reference to ships, water, and the sea. Why might Endo employ this imagery?
8. Did you feel that Sebastian’s actions adhered closely to his own moral principles?
9. The first four chapters are written as letters to an unknown recipient, whilst the rest of the novel is narrated in the third person and a diary extract. What did you make of this technique?
10. Would you agree that Silence is a novel about human suffering?